Paper No. 12
Presentation Time: 10:45 AM


GOOD, GA, American Institute of Physics, Center for History of Physics, One Physics Ellipse, One Physics Ellipse, College Park, MD 20740,

John Herschel (1792-1871) is normally remembered as an astronomer, not as a geologist. Nevertheless, he participated actively in the Geological Society from the 1810s, studied crystals and minerals, collected samples high in the Alps and atop Mt. Etna, and he ultimately published books on Physical Geography and Meteorology. Moreover, he was a crucial and very visible advocate of the physical investigation of the Earth. In the 1830s and 1840s he enunciated a research program involving coordinated expeditions and "physical observatories." He induced the British Admiralty to publish A Manual of Scientific Enquiry, a how-to guide for naval officers making geological, oceanographic, meteorological, and other observations -- a book which he edited and for which he wrote several chapters. At the center of Herschel's view of Earth science, however, was his background in astronomy and physics. Earth to Herschel was a planet, one to which we just happen to have extraordinary access. This cosmic view of Earth was his hallmark. While he was not alone in this perspective in his time -- consider Alexander von Humboldt, Francois Arago, Christian Hansteen, and others -- his range of geo-interests stands as prime example of an emerging view of Earth as part of the dynamical cosmos, a cosmos evolving according to physical laws over immense spans of time and space. Herschel's Physical Geography embodies this perspective.
  • Herschel's Cosmic View of Earth.ppt (24.5 MB)