Archive for December 13, 2015

William Smith and the First National Geological Map

Posted in History, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on December 13, 2015 by telescoper

Friday was the last day of teaching term here at the University of Sussex. Aided by the general winding down of things I managed the unusual feat of geting up to London in time to catch some of the monthly discussion meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society, which was on A Critical Assessment of Cluster Cosmology. Usually I only just manage to get there in time for some of the Ordinary Meeting which follows the specialist meetings at 4pm. And sometimes I only get there in time for the drinks reception at Burlington House followed by the RAS Club dinner at the Athenaeum!

I may write something about Cluster Cosmology if I get time before Christmas, but I thought I’d post an item now inspired by one of the talks in the Ordinary Meeting by Tom Sharpe of Lyme Regis Museum and Cardiff University. This talk was timed to mark the 200th anniversary of the publication of the first ever geological map of England and Wales in 1815. To make it even more topical, the talk was given in the lecture theatre of the Geological Society of London where an original print of the Map is on permanent display:

William Smith Map

The person responsible for this map, which was the first to show nationwide geological strata, was a chap called William Smith who surveyed England and Wales on foot and on horseback, travelling over 10,000 miles to make it. It was a remarkable achievement which, among many other things, led the way to great changes in the understanding of geological time. Unfortunately his work didn’t have much impact when it was first published. Smith, who was evidently not a very astute businessman, eventually went bankrupt and spent some time in a debtor’s prison.

The map itself is extremely beautiful as well as very clever in the way it uses colours and shading to represent three-dimensional information on a two dimensional surface.

Anyway, there is a book  entitled  The Map that Changed the World  written by Simon Winchester which tells the story of William Smith and his map. I haven’t read it but I’m told it’s excellent. I’ll probably buy a copy with the book tokens I inevitably get for Christmas!