When Geologists Were Historians, 1665-1750

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Cornell University Press, 1997 - Science - 308 pages

"An essential perspective for those seeking a serious introduction to early geological science and a fundamental point of departure for future research.... No other book has this scope and conceptual focus."--Kenneth L. Taylor, University of OklahomaIn the years between 1665 and 1750, geology was a new kind of science, combining physical law with historical process. Rhoda Rappaport explains its novelty and provides a transnational account of the development of geological thinking. She begins with the establishment of formal institutions of international exchange, including the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London and the Journal des savants in Paris, and shows how new media fostered increasing communication among scientists, particularly in England, France, and Italy. Early geological thinking was thoroughly integrated with epistemology, historical and biblical scholarship, natural philosophy, and natural history. Ancient written documents supplemented what was called "physical conjecture," providing human witnesses to past events. How to combine elements of law, empirical observations, and texts posed serious problems in debates about the biblical flood, which Rappaport presents as a prime example of a well-attested historical event. Buffon argued forcefully that geology should be wholly a physical science and that historical texts were irrelevant to the reconstruction of physical processes. Rappaport explains how his contemporaries responded to this novel proposal and how Buffon heralded the end of an era.

 

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Contents

Certainty and Probability
41
Natural and Civil History
83
Fossil Questions
105
Diluvialism For and Against
136
Some Ingredients
173
Some Syntheses
200
Buffon and the Rejection of History
235
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About the author (1997)

Rhoda Rappaport is Professor of History at Vassar College.

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