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Hand of history

Prof. Hugh Torrens

Hugh Torrens thinks it is high time the Society appointed an archivist.

Geoscientist 20.02 February 2010

The Society's fine new Special Publication 317, The Making of the Geological Society of London, most nobly edited by Cherry Lewis and Simon Knell, has just been published. It was generated during the bicentenary celebrations of the Geological Society of London, the oldest such body in the world.

One would expect the Society, especially having gone through a veritable orgy of celebrations, to show the proper respect for its history. Yet within this publication my attention was ineluctably drawn to some remarkable statements. On page vi, we read of Cherry’s frustration that there was “no Society archivist in place”. She goes on: “…there hasn’t been one for some years - a rather lamentable situation in its Bicentenary year – [and] I was concerned that a record of these [bicentennial] events would be lost”.

Furthermore we read, on page 88, how Dr Lewis had to deposit the editors’ email correspondence with one another and with the various authors of articles within the book, not with the Geological Society, but with the University of Bristol Special Collections. This correspondence was itself an important archive because, as Cherry writes, it: “contains background information we were not able to use”.

For a Society with such a remarkable history, these comments record a sad state of affairs, especially when one recalls how a work by its first Honorary Archivist (John Thackray) Eye witness accounts of meetings of the Geological Society of London and its Club 1822-1868, had to be posthumously published (in 2003) not by the Society itself but by the British Society for the History of Science.

I feel it is time we as a subject realised that geology is the most historical of all sciences and that its practitioners have a duty both to the science itself, and its history. Such a realisation should demand that we somehow manage to appoint an archivist.
  • Editor writes: Prof. Torrens and readers will be cheered to know that the Society is now seeking to appoint a part-time archivist.