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Aspects of the Life and Works of Archibald Geikie

Product Code: SP480
Series: GSL Special Publications - print copy
Author/Editor: Edited by J. Betterton, J. Craig, J.R. Mendum, R. Neller and J. Tanner
Publication Date: 19 June 2019
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Special Publication 480

Sir Archibald Geikie (1835–1924) was one of the most distinguished and influential geologists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He was Director-General of the Geological Survey of Great Britain, President of the Geological Society of London, President of the British Association, Trustee of the British Museum and President of the Royal Society. He was also an accomplished writer, a masterful lecturer and a talented artist who published over 200 scientific papers, books and articles.

The papers in this volume examine aspects of Geikie’s life and works, including his family history, his personal and professional relationships, his art, and his contributions as a field geologist and administrator. Together, they provide a deeper understanding of his life, his career and his contribution to the development of Geology as a scientific discipline. Much of the research is based on primary sources, including previously unpublished manuscripts, donated in part by members of the family to the Haslemere Educational Museum, UK.

Published online 07/06/2019. Print copies available from 19/06/2019.

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Type: Book
Ten Digit ISBN:
Thirteen Digit ISBN: 9781786204028
Publisher: GSL
Binding: Hardback
Pages: 406
Weight: 1.05 kg


Foreword by Richard Fortey

Preface by A. Behrens


Tanner, J., Betterton, J., Neller, R. & Craig, J. Introduction: aspects of the life and works of Sir Archibald Geikie

Geikie’s family history

Betterton, J. The Geikie Archive at Haslemere Museum: family and professional material

Cribb, S. J. Early life in Edinburgh and beyond: 1835–55

Taylor, M. A. Autobiography and documentable fact in the family background and religious affiliation of Archibald Geikie (1835–1924)

Geikie’s friendships and professional relationships

Taylor, M. A. ‘Miller’s most important geological discovery’: Archibald Geikie (1835–1924) as pupil and memorialist of Hugh Miller (1802–56)

Burek, C. V. Archibald Geikie: his influence on and support for the roles of female geologists

Johnston, H. H. M. Forster Heddle: an intimate friendship

Sorkhabi, R. Sir Archibald Geikie: the North American connections

Sanders, A. J. A long life’s relationship: Archibald Geikie, Alexander Macmillan and his publishing house

Geikie as a field geologist

Butler, R. W. H., Matthews, S. J. & Morgan, R. K. Geikie’s field researches and their geological controversies

Dewey, J. F. The Highland Controversy revisited: Geikie’s compounded blunder

Summerhayes. C. P. Archibald Geikie and the Ice Age controversy

Worsley, P. Archibald Geikie as a glacial geologist

Morgan, N. Geikie’s science in the cemetery

Unpublished Geikie material and archival resources

Betterton, J. The Geikie Archive at Haslemere Educational Museum

Betterton, J. Unpublished manuscripts of Archibald Geikie

Betterton, J. Archival resources

Artistic family

Morrison, J. Archibald Geikie and landscape painting

Scott, H. E. The life and art of Walter Geikie (1795–1837)

Geological collections

Benton, M. J. Archibald Geikie and the Elgin reptiles

Betterton, J. Geikielite: an illustrated account of the co-type specimens

Mendum, J. R. & Howe, M. P. A. Geikie and the development of petrography, particularly in Scotland

A Scottish industry

Craig, J. & Underhill, J. R. Archibald Geikie’s role in the establishment of the Scottish oil shale industry



Peter Gutteridge

This book examines the life of Sir Archibald Geikie. It includes non-specialist accounts of field excursions and meditations on the compatibility of the fossil record with the biblical account of creation. The book provides an introduction to the archive at Haselmere Museum that includes unpublished papers, correspondence and works of art that will be an invaluable source for researchers.

Geikie was fortunate in his mentors. The young Geikie’s geological interest was nurtured by Hugh Miller, who gave him access to the Royal Society of Edinburgh, where he presented the results of his early geological research. While still a young geologist, Geikie developed a close friendship with Murchison that opened up big career opportunities for him. However, this appears to have come at some cost of scientific integrity and the book could have explored these aspects of Geikie’s career further.

It would have been interesting to enlarge on the Survey’s mapping of the Southern Uplands. In a premonition of his work on NW Scotland, Geikie failed to recognise stratigraphic repetition by faulting and it was Charles Lapworth who pointed out the Survey’s errors. Today, no one would argue that Murchison was right about NW Scotland, but to describe his interpretation as a blunder raises the question of whether a scientific theory can be right or wrong. I would argue that major gaps in geological knowledge at the time of Murchison’s death prevented him from coming to a complete understanding of the geology. The endowment of the Chair of Geology at Edinburgh University by Murchison for Geikie would have been worthy of larger treatment in the book, because Murchison’s motivation was apparently to ensure the continuing support of his flawed hypothesis.

Geikie also made important contributions in areas of igneous and glacial geology, continental erosion in the USA, mineralogy and petrology; perhaps significantly—all areas in which Murchison did not have a prior interest. At a time when pencil and water colour sketches were the only way for geologists to record field observations, Geikie stood out as a talented artist with his own style of landscape painting and his depiction of rural scenes shows the influence of his uncle and Scottish Academician, James Geikie. Geikie also passed on his experience, doing much to popularise geology and to promote women geologists. Other people, including the gifted mineralogist Matthew Forster Heddle, benefitted from his support; however, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that underneath it all lay a single-minded careerist.

Rasoul Sorkhabi

A fabulous book! Congratulations on the successful completion and publication of this volume about a remarkable British geologist.

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