During the "great flowering" of geology around 1800, the rapidly increasing use of fossils was important not only in stratigraphical correlation but also for providing "archives of nature": they enabled the history of the earth to be reconstructed in detail as a sequence of contingent events. Here I analyse the classic work of Georges Cuvier and Alexandre Brongniart on the Paris basin, and the contemporary work of William Smith in England, in relation to their fusion of certain research practices that had earlier been distinct. I argue that the French work, while significantly influenced by Smith, was decisively important in its own right as an exemplar of a newly empirical practice of geohistorical reconstruction.

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