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Abstract

The modern image of the Geological Society owes much to William Smith whom the Society used, in 1831, to claim ascendency over European rivals. At its birth, however, the Society pursued a science adopted from the Continent, which privileged field data and saw mineralogy and chemistry as the sciences of the Earth. The Society’s birth mobilized the nation; its co-operative, mobile, investigative, subtly theoretical and didactic vigour materialized in the production of Greenough’s geological map of England. Yet Smith’s geology spread virus-like, converting the membership in various ways, some acknowledging Smith, others denying him. In possession of Smith’s geology, and impressed by his publications, the Society men emerged from a philosophical wilderness, only to break out in a competitive fever to write an Elements of Geology. The Society’s great supporter, John Farey, broke free, disillusioned and determined to destroy Greenough. Nevertheless, Greenough pushed forward with his map, competing directly with Smith and intent on surpassing him. However, following the development of a powerbase for his geology in Yorkshire, Smith rode into London to be crowned the father of a peculiarly English science. Smith’s map now became the national icon of English geology, less than a decade after the Society had rendered it obsolete. Next to it, Greenough’s map – the Society’s ‘glory’ – symbolized the Society’s co-operative spirit and political acumen, attributes no less important to the science’s advance.

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