Paper No. 5
Presentation Time: 9:00 AM


CLARY, Renee M., Geosciences, Mississippi State University, P.O. Box 1705, Mississippi State, MS 39762 and WANDERSEE, James H., Educational Theory, Policy, and Practice, Louisiana State University, 223 F Peabody Hall, Baton Rouge, LA 70803,

Henry De la Beche (1796-1855) first participated in the emerging science of geology within elite circles. When his finances changed, De la Beche managed to secure government support for his mapping projects, eventually to become the first director of the British Geological Survey. A firm advocate of observation, De la Beche promoted the collection of facts and accurate portrayal of geological information, in both narrative and illustration formats. He greatly influenced the professionalization of science through his government position, and lobbied for the establishment of Britain’s Royal School of Mines, the Museum of Practical Geology, and the Mining Record Office. De la Beche also wielded influence through his publications. A gifted artist, De la Beche wrote and illustrated a total of nine texts, with some printed in multiple editions and translated into several languages. Two of De la Beche’s texts deserve mention as great books of geology: Sections and Views, Illustrative of Geological Phenomena and A Geological Manual.

De la Beche wrote Sections and Views for his colleagues with the purpose of providing detailed field observations. He specifically stated, “It would be much more desirable that facts should be placed in the foreground and theories in the distance” since the contemporary theories often rested on little supporting evidence. In Sections and Views, De la Beche constructed 40 plates, with accurate, unexaggerated portrayal of geological information.

In the 1830s, both a literate middle class and advances in printing techniques emerged in Britain. Within this context, De la Beche authored texts for the general public. His first general geology text, A Geological Manual, was his most successful. First printed in 1831, the text was published in three English editions, and translated into French and German. This book was more prolifically illustrated than its contemporary texts; the 1833 French edition also included the first vignette reconstructions of ancient life. Well-regarded by contemporary geologists, A Geological Manual still serves to thoroughly document the research practices and the existing geology base during the Golden Age of Geology. As De la Beche predicted, the observations and geological facts recorded in his texts continue to hold relevance for modern geologists and historians.