Henry De la Beche (1796-1855) entered the scientific realm within an elite group of gentleman geologists. As a firm advocate of observation, De la Beche's philosophy of science involved the collection of fects, from which satisfactory theories or solutions to geological problems could only arise after accumulated observations were compiled. He authored many texts, but insisted that he recorded only fects and did not support particular theories, which often relied on scant observation. When De la Beche's finances floundered, his persistence at procuring government support for his mapping projects resulted in his eventual appointment (1835) as director of what would become the British Geological Survey. As a government scientist, De la Beche maintained a staunch advocacy of observation. He used his position to promote field work, and ensured quality in the deliberate recording of accurate information. He provided clear instructions to local survey directors, and advocated a "general mode of observing and recording fects" for "systematic investigations and uniformity of results" (1845). His methods guaranteed that facts, and not selective interpretations, would be available for those who needed them. He insisted that utilitarian geological products, such as survey maps and mining records, were consistent and of high quality. He also promoted the importance of these products—and the field work that produced them—within the elite societies of which he remained a member. Through his government position, De la Beche successfully advocated for public displays of facts and collections, and largely through his efforts the Museum of Practical Geology, the School of Mines, and the Mining Record Office were established. Therefore, De la Beche's emphasis of observation over theory had far-reaching impact in the emerging Victorian professionalization of science. Although he lost personal funding and could not sustain only an elite participation in the emerging geological discipline, his government position provided a powerful platform from which he was able to teach, systematize, and institutionalize field-based geological observation. De la Beche's success is measured through the establishment of feet repositories in Great Britain, and also through the impact that surveyors who studied his field methods brought to other countries.
The journey from elite society to government geologist: Henry de la Beche's (1796-1855) powerful impact on the importance of observation within an emerging professional science
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Renee Clary, James Wandersee; The journey from elite society to government geologist: Henry de la Beche's (1796-1855) powerful impact on the importance of observation within an emerging professional science. Earth Sciences History 1 January 2014; 33 (2): 259–278. doi: https://doi.org/10.17704/eshi.33.2.b0764512965g836u
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