The Practice of British Geology, 1750–1850: 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

The Practice of British Geology, 1750–1850

1st Edition

By Hugh Torrens


372 pages

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Hardback: 9780860788768
pub: 2002-03-24

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Geology is the most historical of all sciences. Yet its own history remains neglected, especially the many aspects of how geology was practised in the past. This volume analyses the careers of some important practical figures in English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish geology between 1750 and 1850. These include people who would have regarded themselves more as mining engineers (or ’coal viewers' as they were then called in the vital coal industry) or ’mineral surveyors' as today's mineral prospectors were first called (from 1808), or even inventors. Their expertise, in the land which led the industrial revolution, took them all over the world. Those included here went to Italy, and South (Peru) and North America (Virginia and Canada). The practice of geology, through the search for mines and minerals, has been much less attended to by historians than the geology which was undertaken by leisured amateurs - even though practical geology was as important in the past as the oil industry is today.


'… the present collection of papers, from 1983 to 1999, is especially welcome… Torrens's papers are essential to understanding the history of geology …' Archives of Natural History '… Hopefully this important collection of essays (…) will be acquired and placed on open shelves for geologists to access… a fascinating expedition into the past… opens windows into the long-lost world of the surveyors and engineers, all artisans rather than university-trained gentlemen, who were the first actually to practice geology…. Torrens has an eye for detail that reveals as much about the lives of these people as the very real geological world of shafts, wimbles, sections and strata.' Geological Magazine 'Few other practitioners in this field recreate the drama of historical discovery so convincingly… Torres writes (…) for specialists and has much to teach them.' Isis 'It is genuinely worthwhile and convenient to have these papers in one volume, given their disparate places of issue, sometimes in publications of limited distribution; and the index is a bonus of real value… Anyone interested in the history of British geology at the relevant period, and many local historians and industrial archaeologists, would find this worth checking for the issues that these papers raise…' Annals of Science 'This book should be on the shelf of all interested in the early development of both geology and mineral prospecting, particularly coal mining.' Geology Today 'Almost every one of these papers serves to advance and amplify an underlying thesis that should be of interest to historians of geology, and by extension to historians of science generally… In championing the historical roles of prospectors, surveyors, miners, engineers, and mineral dealers, he raises important questions about the proper balance between theory and practice in our historical perspective.' Metascience

Table of Contents

Contents: Introduction; Some thoughts on the complex and forgotten history of mineral exploration; The British 'mineral engineer' John Williams (1732-1795), his work in Britain from 1749 to 1793 and as a mineral surveyor in the Veneto and North Italy between 1793 and 1795; Geological communication in the Bath area in the last half of the 18th century; Le ’Nouvel Art de Prospection Minière’ de William Smith et le ’Projet de Houillère de Brewham’: un essai malencontreux de recherche de charbon dans le sud-ouest de l'Angleterre, entre 1803 et 1810; Patronage and problems: Banks and the earth sciences; John Farey (1766-1826), an unrecognised polymath, including John Farey, Bibliography; Coal hunting at Bexhill 1805-1811: how the new science of stratigraphy was ignored; James Ryan (c.1770-1847) and the problems of introducing Irish 'new technology' to British mines in the early 19th century; Arthur Aikin's mineralogical survey of Shropshire 1796-1816 and the contemporary audience for geological publications; The scientific ancestry and historiography of The Silurian System; Joseph Harrison Fryer (1777-1855): geologist and mining engineer, in England 1803-1825 and South America 1826-1828 - a study in 'failure'; William Edmond Logan's geological apprenticeship in Britain 1831-1842; James Buckman (1814-1884), English consulting geologist and his visit to the Guyandotte coal-fields in 1854; Index.

About the Series

Variorum Collected Studies

The first title in the Variorum Collected Studies series was published in 1970. Since then well over 1000 titles have appeared in the series, and it has established a well-earned international reputation for the publication of key research across a whole range of subjects within the fields of history.

The history of the medieval world remains central to the series, with Byzantine studies a particular speciality, but the range of titles extends from Hellenistic philosophy and the history of the Roman empire and early Christianity, through the Renaissance and Reformation, up to the 20th century. Islamic Studies forms another major strand as do the histories of science, technology and medicine.

Each title in the Variorum Collected Studies series brings together for the first time a selection of articles by a leading authority on a particular subject. These studies are reprinted from a vast range of learned journals, Festschrifts and conference proceedings. They make available research that is scattered, even inaccessible in all but the largest and most specialized libraries. With a new introduction and index, and often with new notes and previously unpublished material, they constitute an essential resource. 

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
HISTORY / General