For a region that is still not completely explored geologically, the Caribbean has an extraordinarily rich history of geological investigation. In the two hundred years since the birth of modern geology, many prominent figures have worked in the Caribbean, and their experiences there were seminal in the formation of hypotheses central to the development of the science. Even earlier, the fruits of geological exploitation of precious metals had an important influence in the economic and political history of post-Renaissance Europe.
In tracing the history of geological investigation in the Caribbean region, it becomes apparent that certain periods were characterized by particular modes or climates of inquiry, some imposed by the science of geology, others imposed by society. In the following account, the history of geological investigation is divided into five such periods. In the description of the earlier periods, attention is drawn to a number of books and papers important to the development of geology in the region. In the discussion of later periods, such specific references have been avoided, mainly because they are too numerous to mention individually and because reference to them will be found in the other chapters of this volume. Further references can be found in the bibliography compiled by the Franklin Research Institute Laboratories (1972). The historical portrait presented here has, of necessity, been painted with a broad brush, and apologies are made beforehand for the omission of any favorite geological heroes.