Paper No. 8
Presentation Time: 9:45 AM


LOHFF, Kathleen, Severna Park, MD 21146,

In Principles of Geology (1830), Lyell suggested several theories of continental formation based on his causal geological style. Lyell contended that geologists found truth by suggesting views that, although often imperfect, were capable of improvement. His travels through North America helped him to improve his own earlier theories. Lyell’s efforts to describe the origin and formation of Niagara Falls dismantled the theory of fault formation and demonstrated the role that subsidence and elevation played in forming the continent. His studies of the fossils helped to place the region in the Silurian period and confirm the magnitude of time required for the processes of demolition and reproduction to maintain geological uniformity. In turn, the observations that Lyell made during his travels provided decisive evidence to support his uniformitarian methods.

In 1836, an endowment from John Lowell, Jr. funded the Lowell Institution Lecture series. Popular across Europe and larger metropolitan areas of the US, lecture series, such as the Friday evening discourses at the Royal Institution in London, promoted science among the population at large. Academic and scientific elites, such as Benjamin Silliman, Louis Agassiz, and Ralph Waldo Emerson, were among the series lecturers in the nineteenth-century. The annual series continues today at the Boston Public Library. Charles Lyell was invited to Boston to deliver the 1841 series, which he repeated in Philadelphia and New York City. The eight lectures presented in New York were recorded verbatim and printed in the New York Tribune. As such, they provide an excellent source to demonstrate Lyell’s contributions to American geological history. Using the lectures as a framework, this essay flips the question around by exploring the influence of American geology on Lyell’s developing principles. This will be accomplished by examining the revisions and inclusion of evidence from North America in subsequent editions to the original 1830 edition, of Principles of Geology, with particular emphasis on the seventh edition (1847).