Bursting the Limits of Time: The Reconstruction of Geohistory in the Age of Revolution
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Addressing this intellectual revolution for the first time, Rudwick examines the ideas and practices of earth scientists throughout the Western world to show how the story of what we now call "deep time" was pieced together. He explores who was responsible for the discovery of the earth's history, refutes the concept of a rift between science and religion in dating the earth, and details how the study of the history of the earth helped define a new branch of science called geology. Rooting his analysis in a detailed study of primary sources, Rudwick emphasizes the lasting importance of field- and museum-based research of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Bursting the Limits of Time, the culmination of more than three decades of research, is the first detailed account of this monumental phase in the history of science.
humanities—all of them Wissenschaften, sciences, wetenschappen, scienze (etc.) in the broad sense still retained in European languages other than English—are not intrinsic to the natural and human worlds: all our maps of knowledge are themselves human constructions, embedded in the contingencies and specificities of history. . Rudwick, “Visual language” (), set out long ago my own plea for the use of pictorial sources in historical work on the sciences. This article was quite well received
after living many years in England—to savants such as his neighbor the German-born astronomer William Herschel. The Dutch naturalist Petrus Camper and his son Adriaan, exchanging letters almost weekly while the younger man was living in Paris, both wrote as a matter of course in French, not in their native language.24 Any savant wanting his work to get full international attention would therefore try to have it published in French, or translated as soon as possible after its publication in
and established “facts”, or undermined and rejected as spurious or invalid. . MAPS OF NATURAL KNOWLEDGE The literary and the philosophical The third and last part of this brief survey of the scientific world around the time of Saussure’s ascent of Mont Blanc deals with the tacit mental “map of knowledge” on which the various sciences were situated and related to each other. In other words, having outlined who was practicing the sciences (§.) and where the scientific knowledge was being
containing beautifully preserved fossils, was enough to make any savant’s imagination reel at the likely immensity of time. The point was well summarized by La Métherie, the editor of Observations sur la Physique: “One feels that such enormous beds of limestone, gypsum, and shales, and such substantial masses of [fossil] shells, fish, and plants, could have been formed only in an innumerable sequence of ages [siècles] of which we have no conception, and perhaps at different epochs.”85 Estimates
ambitious kind, which were intended to take causal explanation on to a much higher level of generality. In fact, to describe the more restricted kind of study as if it were an end in itself is rather misleading, for such work was usually undertaken as a means towards a much more important end. The ultimate goal of many savants concerned with the sciences of the earth was to construct what they called a “system” or high-level theory about the earth. This would be not merely a theory to explain