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Edinburgh University Library Special Collections Division

Records of Edinburgh Geological Society

Collection Summary

Reference Code

GB 0237 Edinburgh Geological Society



Extent and medium of the unit of description

3 metres

(19 boxes)

Existence and Location of Originals

This material is original.

Name of creator

Edinburgh Geological Society | 1834-: | scientific society, Edinburgh (Scotland)

Biographical History

Administrative History

The Edinburgh Geological Society (1834-current day) formed when geology, as a new science, was both fashionable and dynamic. In its first 50 years it played a significant role in public awareness of the importance of science. Many renowned geologists have been counted as members since its inception and have contributed widely to the geological literature and research methodology. The Society as a whole has also been instrumental in lobbying for geological research and education. In 1868 the first edition of Transactions was published. The Edinburgh Geologist has been produced for members since 1977. The Scottish Journal of Geology is published in conjunction with the Geological Society of Glasgow.

The Geological Society originated as a discussion group for 11 people attending mineralogy classes led by Alexander Rose, during a period when topical debate concerning the origins of the earth was being transformed into an empirical science. In the first year it developed laws to govern procedure, was renamed the Edinburgh Geological Society, and started to develop a collection of specimens and a library. The society's increased number of fellows led to the development of a formal programme of lectures and excursions, which remains the current format.

Early research by the society concentrated on palaeontology and stratigraphy of central Scotland. Individual fellows, particularly Alexander Rose (1781-1860) , published numerous papers. Meanwhile the society made a large fossil collection and maps of the Scottish coal bearing areas. A specially formed committee prepared a catalogue of Brachiopoda of the Lothians and Fife. Glacial and post-glacial theory was debated during the later decades of the 1800s. This is reflected in the minutes and transactions of the Society. The society's fellows, including Archibald Geikie (1835-1924), James Geikie (1839-1915) and Benjamin Neeve Peach (1842-1926) published seminal texts on the subject. Following the development of the petrological microscope in the early 1900s the Society's focus moved to igneous petrographic research. A large number of papers on old red sandstone and the carboniferous Permian of Midlothian and other parts of central Scotland were produced.

There are many notable contributions to geological methodology by early members. The section technique for fossil analysis, and instruments to carry it out were developed by George Sanderson, possibly as early as 1826. Alexander Bryson exhibited an instrument for measuring crystal reflective powers in 1840. Henry Clifton Sorby (1826-1908) laid the basis for petrographical research by applying thin section technique to rocks around 1868. Lobbying activities include petitioning government concerning the requirements of the first geological survey of Scotland (1852) and the establishment of a chair of geology at the University of Edinburgh (1870).

In the 1980s the Edinburgh Geological Society concentrated on publishing the society's findings in a series of publicly available booklet and leaflet excursion guides. These cover geologically unique locations within the city of Edinburgh and throughout Scotland.

Sir Roderick Impey Murchison was the first patron of the Society from 1863-1871 followed by Sir Charles Lyell from 1871-1875.

Scope and Content

Scope and Content

The records of the Edinburgh Geological Society consist of:

  • minute books of general and council meetings (1834-1982)
  • abstract book (1915-1937)
  • treasurer's accounts
  • the library catalogue (c1886-1913)
  • laws, lists and rolls of members
  • membership applications
  • billets of meetings (1879 -1990)
  • correspondence
  • papers read (1863-1864)
  • printed items include: History of the Edinburgh Geological Society, (1934); Proceedings of the Edinburgh Geological Society, (1972-1987); and the Edinburgh Geologist, (1977-1990) ; leaflets; postcards; and geological excursion guides (1934-1990)

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