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Abstract

In the 1780s observations of geological phenomena by American authors appeared in American publications. Europeans had also begun to explore the American geological landscape, notably the immigrant William Maclure. But an American geological community had not yet formed by 1807. Much of this apparent ‘delay’ in the development of the geological sciences in the United States resulted from the cultural and political realities of the new nation. In a new and democratic–egalitarian society, it took time to negotiate the nature of the appropriate public support for the practice of science. Individuals with the resources to provide private patronage for scientific undertakings were exceedingly few. The educational institutions that would ultimately be a major factor in the transmission and extension of geological knowledge were only then beginning to multiply and grow. In 1807 Benjamin Silliman completed his first year of science instruction at Yale, but offered only chemistry and mineralogy. Geology would wait several more years. Other institutions and individuals critical to the future of geology in the United States were ‘born’ in 1807 – including the United States Coast Survey, and Louis Agassiz and David Dale Owen. Roughly another decade would pass before a ‘geological community’ would emerge in the United States.

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