George Bellas Greenough’s ‘Theory of the Earth’ and its impact on the early Geological Society
Martina Kölbl-Ebert, 2009. "George Bellas Greenough’s ‘Theory of the Earth’ and its impact on the early Geological Society", The Making of the Geological Society of London, C. L. E. Lewis, S. J. Knell
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George Bellas Greenough, co-founder and first President of the Geological Society of London, became interested in geology when he went to study law in Göttingen. There he attended lectures given by Professor Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, an admirer of Jean-André de Luc, who greatly influenced Greenough’s geological ideas. Greenough himself was not an original researcher, but saw his scientific task as a most diligent gatherer of information and as a critical and – as he felt – impartial reviewer of his fellows’ research. In 1819 he published a book entitled A Critical Examination of the First Principles of Geology in a Series of Essays. In this book, as well as in many of his numerous private notes, he struggled with the question of how to develop a proper scientific method for the new science of geology, striving for firm principles and definitions as a basis for geological observations. Although he despised theorizing on general principles, especially when it concerned those whom he called the Huttonians or Plutonists, he himself was not free of a theoretical concept in which he judged the validity of data. This bias sometimes became a drag on scientific ‘progress’ because his preoccupation with his own Theory led him to dismiss important developments such as William Smith’s biostratigraphy when they did not fall within his horizon of interest. Thus Greenough, and with him the new Society, was slow to recognize their importance and value.
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The Making of the Geological Society of London
Founded in 1807, the Geological Society of London became the world’s first learned society devoted to the Earth sciences. In celebration of the Society’s 200-year history, this book commemorates the lives of the Society’s 13 founders and sets geology in its national and European context at the turn of the nineteenth century. In Britain, geology was emerging as a subject in its own right from three closely related disciplines — chemistry, mineralogy and medicine — disciplines that reflect the principal professions and interests of the founders. The tremendous energy and cooperation of these 13 men, about whom little was previously known, quickly mobilized like-minded men around the country and fuelled the nation’s passion for geology; an enthusiasm that soon spread to America and Australia. Two previously unpublished works from this period, essential to understanding the founding of the Society, are reproduced here for the first time. The book closes with a review of the Society’s 2007 Bicentenary celebrations.