2007 GSA Denver Annual Meeting (28–31 October 2007)

Paper No. 6
Presentation Time: 9:35 AM


VAN RIPER, A. Bowdoin, Department of Social and International Studies, Southern Polytechnic State University, 1100 South Marietta Parkway, Marietta, GA 30060, bvanriper@bellsouth.net

The British geological community consisted, during the “golden age” that lasted from the mid-1820s to the mid-1870s, of a vast amateur rank-and-file led by a quasi-professional elite. Members of the elite treated geology as the equivalent of a full-time career, but rarely depended on it as a source of income. They typically supported themselves with the income from personal fortunes or from jobs that left them with substantial free time.

The career of David T. Ansted (1814-1880) was a striking departure from this pattern. It began in relatively conventional fashion in the mid-1830s, with a degree from Cambridge and extensive involvement in the activities of the Geological Society of London. Firmly established among the geological elite by the time he was 30, Ansted began to chart his own distinct course soon thereafter. Virtually alone among elite Victorian geologists, Ansted pursued geology not only as a career but also as a source of income. He achieved this by pursuing a wide range of geological projects simultaneously: teaching, consulting, and producing a new book every eighteen to twenty-four months. This kind of ad hoc career path was relatively common among American geologists before the Civil War, but rare among British geology. Ansted's embrace of the practical side of geology, exemplified by his thriving practice as a mining consultant and his authorship of The Gold-Seeker's Manual, was also atypical.

The paradox of Ansted's reputation--though famous in his own time, he is virtually forgotten today--reflects both the unique structure of his career and the blind spots in historians' understanding of the Victorian geological community.