The Foundation of the Geological Society of London: Its Scheme for Co-operative Research and its Struggle for Independence

British Journal for the History of Science 1 (4):325-355 (1963)
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Abstract

The Geological Society of London was the first learned society to be devoted solely to geology, and its members were responsible for much of the spectacular progress of the science in the nineteenth century. Its distinctive character as a centre of geological discussion and research was established within the first five years from its foundation in 1807. During this period its activities were directed, and its policies largely shaped, by its President, George Bellas Greenough, on whose unpublished papers this account is chiefly based.The Society began as a small scientific dining club in London, but it developed rapidly into a learned society with a nation-wide membership. It became so independent in outlook and so active in research that it was felt to threaten the esteem of the Royal Society; and little more than a year after its foundation it clashed with the Royal Society so violently that its continued existence was for a time uncertain.Its development into a large independent society was the outcome of its ‘Baconian’ view of the importance of collecting geological facts as a surer basis for geological theories. For this purpose it initiated an ambitious scheme for co-operative research, which would unite the efforts of ‘philosophers’ with those of ‘practical men’. Only personal reasons seem to have kept the most prominent of the practical men—William Smith—from co-operating with the Society

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