Today I wrap up my Founding Five and announce that the blog will be on a short break while I move across the country and start a new job. But don’t worry, I’ll be starting a new series after everything settles down!
The letters between Ibn Sina and his rival al-Briuni show the Islamic world of the 9th and 10th Centuries was rich in scientific achievement. Both men were also avid geologists and made significant contributions to our understanding of the Earth. Their story proves the Islamic world has been a source of geologic knowledge for centuries.
Who invented geology? That question is harder to answer than you think. In this post, I write about James Hutton, Comte de Buffon, Nicolas Steno, and Rene Descartes, and suggest that even though Ibn Sina beat them to the punch, nobody really invented geology. Fundamental principles of geology have just been derived by different people in different times and places because of geology’s universal nature.
Ibn Sina was a Persian scientist who in the 1000’s invented the geologic concepts of superposition and uniformitarianism. He also correctly deduced how fossils were formed and used them to reconstruct Earth’s history. He has a good claim to be the true “founding father” of geology.
Franz Nopcsa was a baron, spy, and paleontologist who was nearly crowned King of Albania. He made many discoveries that were ahead of his time and founded the science of paleobiology. Yet you have likely never heard of him.
Annie Alexander went on several paleontological expeditions in the early 1900’s. These trips highlight the difficulties that women face in the field. I use her story as a backdrop to discuss discrimination in the field today and how in many ways it has not improved since Alexander’s 1905 “Saurian Expedition.”
Annie Alexander loved paleontology and the outdoors. She used her financial acumen to support the paleo program at UC-Berkeley. She is important as one of the earliest American LGBTQIA paleontologists. She loved adventure and exploring the world with her close companion Louise Kellogg.
A dinosaur named Sue shows the complicated history of diversity, inclusion, and cultural awareness in paleontology. Sue was discovered by a woman on Native American land, and her story involves court cases, an FBI raid, and a multimillion dollar auction. Importantly, Sue’s story illustrates the complicated intersection of geosciences and Native American rights.
The letters written between Florence Bascom and her mentor Victor Goldschmidt describe their close bond. Their letters also describe the tragedy faced by Goldschmidt as a result of World War I and the post-war economic crisis in Germany. In these letters we see a side of Bascom most biographies fail to mention. Bascom’s relationship with Goldschmidt shaped her into the “Stone Lady” we celebrate today.
We stand on the shoulders of giants. Florence Bascom owes her success to a series of strong mentors who helped her thrive in a discriminatory world. She in turn mentored many of the top women in geology and paleontology of the 20th Century. Her story shows the power of mentors to make geosciences more inclusive.