ABSTRACT

Several European countries instituted mining schools in the late 1700s, including France, Germany, Hungary, and Russia. However, since England’s mining industry was privatized with little government involvement, Great Britain was decades behind with the creation of a school of mines. In 1835, Henry De la Beche (1796–1855) became the first director of the Ordnance Geological Survey, precursor to the British Geological Survey. De la Beche used this position to advance geology’s professionalization, which would include the establishment of an applied geology museum, mining records storehouse, and a school of mines. The Museum of Economic Geology, displaying the country’s mineral resources and geology, was De la Beche’s first success. Founded in 1835, it opened to the public in 1841. The Mining Records Office opened in 1840 as a repository for plans of working and abandoned mines. An early public advocate for workers’ safety, De la Beche lobbied for government inspections of collieries, immediate reporting of mining accidents, and proper plans of mines. The School of Mines was De la Beche’s third accomplishment in geology’s professionalization. As an outgrowth of the museum, it was formally opened in 1851 along with the larger Museum of Practical Geology, the Museum of Economic Geology’s successor. De la Beche’s intent for the School of Mines—instruction as a combination of science and practice—seems modern in its approach. In 1843, funding was allocated for lectures on the practical applications of geology, but these were not implemented until the School of Mines opened in 1851. In his effort to educate everyone—from miner to mine owner—De la Beche transcended social boundaries and supported open, public lectures. As a result, some considered him a class traitor. De la Beche used his position to advocate for advancement of the mining industry to include miner safety and public education. Therefore, while the Royal School of Mines emerged later than many of its European counterparts, it was part of a systematic professionalization of geology, coupled with education and a public advocacy for mining participants.

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