The Social Shaping of Geological Science

This research project is in competition for funding with one or more projects available across the ESRC Wales (DTP). Usually the projects which receive the best applicants will be awarded the funding. Find out more information about the DTP and how to apply.

Application deadline: 1 February 2018

Start date: October 2018


The National Museum of Wales holds the archive of Henry de le Beche, famous Victorian geologist and palaeontologist, first director of the geological survey, and an antagonist in the Great Devonian Controversy that animated Victorian geology across Europe. The archive holds almost all correspondence received and retained by Henry De la Beche, and includes letters from family and friends as well as scientific contemporaries including Charles Darwin.

Geology and stratiagraphy, two key sciences of climate change, are among the most prominent sciences of our age. Yet they are little studied in science and technology studies.

One year on from the formal declaration of the Anthropocene by geologists, this study will draw on the De la Beche archive, with particular attention to the ideas, theories, organisation, and individuals that are entangled in it, to recreate the emergence of geological science in the early nineteenth century.

The aim of the project is to explore how social and political relations between geologists, suspended in the network of De la Beche’s correspondence, produced and shaped a science that has become dominant into the twenty-first century.

Project aims and methods

The project is centred in the De La Beche archive at AC-NMW, though it may involve some work in other archives (eg some of De La Beche’s own letters are archived at Oxford). With shared supervision at AC-NMW, the project works with catalogued and digitised materials to recreate the social network of Victorian geology and explore the social context that shaped this revolutionary period in the geological sciences.

Possible themes may include:

  • the role of class and gender in what came to be seen as scientific work, and/or
  • the effect of commercial wealth – including that derived from slavery – in creating a new generation of scientific ‘gentlemen’.


Rob Evans

Professor Robert Evans

Director of Teaching and Learning

+44(0) 29 2087 4034


Bella Dicks, National Museum Wales

Programme information

For programme structure, entry requirements and how to apply, visit the Social Sciences programme.

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