King's College London
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Imperial designs: technology and empire in the 19th century

Geological and philosophical discoveries

Coloured geological map of Nova Scotia.A new geological map of the peninsula of Nova Scotia.Geological exploration in the 19th century was undertaken over an increasingly wide geographical area in a search for minerals and natural resources which could be used to power and construct the growing industrial centres of the world. This economic geology, using equipment that was itself becoming more technologically effective in discovering such resources, identified areas holding fossil fuels and mineral deposits.

The map legend of this geological map of Nova Scotia lists some of these resources. Beds of gypsum are used in fertilisers or in plaster construction, iron ore is used to make steel, and beds of coal are used to power industry.

Mining remains a significant industry within Nova Scotia and geological exploration continues worldwide. Various naturally occurring minerals and deposits are mined both to power industry and to provide parts for consumer products such as mobile telephones.

‘Fracking’, the relatively new technique of extracting natural gas through fracturing rock beneath the ground, and the exploration of the Arctic and of the unknown seabed for resource-rich areas continue mankind’s insatiable need for fuel and goods, which began on an industrial scale in the 19th century.

Alongside the economic geology described above, within the exploration of rock formations there also went equally significant discoveries of a scientific kind, which had a profound effect on Christian teachings and ‘Creationist’ theory. Between 1830 and 1833, around the time he was professor of geology at King’s, Charles Lyell (1797-1875), published his Principles of geology. This posited a hypothesis known as ‘uniformitarianism’, that suggested a gradual and consistent development of geological processes on earth.

Such conclusions, drawn from scientific evidence and followed quickly by Darwin’s findings, saw citizens of the 19th century increasingly question whether Biblical events like the Flood were consistent with such scientific discovery and this new evidence of evolution.

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