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Abstract

The stratigraphical approach and geological mapping of William Smith in England and Georges Cuvier in France gave birth to modern geology. However, before 1815 neither used the word ‘geology’, a term first coined by Ulisse Aldrovandi in 1603. At the turn of the nineteenth century most leading geoscientists were based in France and Germany, but those in Britain were poised to take over the lead. After three centuries of dominance in science and geology, was Italian geology in decline? A review of the works of Italian geologists and the role these played in disseminating Italian geological research has been undertaken to examine this question. The French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars shocked the Italian states, disrupted the economic order and discontinued the progress of science. Nevertheless, from 1759 to 1859 over 40 classic papers in geology were published in Italy. Among them, Gian Battista Brocchi’s Conchiologia Fossile is the most renowned for having inspired Charles Lyell’s work. In the middle decades of the nineteenth century Italian geoscientists made up the majority of foreign members of both the French and English geological societies. The Italian Geological Society was not formed until 1881. This was largely due to the earlier political fragmentation of Italy into many small states.

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