A Deluge of Doubt: William Buckland and the establishment of geological science at Oxford

Lincoln, Peter (2022) A Deluge of Doubt: William Buckland and the establishment of geological science at Oxford. Doctoral thesis, University of East Anglia.

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Oxford University’s first ‘professor’ of geology, William Buckland (1784-1856), was a man of huge personality and divided loyalties. Deeply attached to the traditional tenets of the Church of England, he was also an influential advocate for a new science that was shaking the faith of many of his countrymen. In this thesis, I examine the life and career of this controversial figure, from his earliest days as a parson’s son in Devon to the publication, in 1836, of his successful and widely admired Bridgewater Treatise.

Aiming at the non-specialist reader, I have taken care to elaborate the social and religious environments in which Buckland operated. Using much previously unexplored primary manuscript evidence – gathered from a wide range of archives – together with many primary printed sources, I have charted the labyrinthine networks of patronage that enabled Buckland to prosper within the very particular circumstance of early nineteenth century Oxford. I have also explored Buckland’s own geological practice and the theoretical context within which he worked, with particular emphasis on how the constraints of Oxford’s conservative traditions caused him to espouse a ‘Diluvial Theory’ that had long-since been abandoned in most quarters.

In the final chapters of the thesis, I focus on Buckland’s crucial role in the nascent British Association for the Advancement of Science and the long genesis, and eventual reception, of his Bridgewater Treatise. I have, throughout, been at pains to weave into the narrative Buckland’s idiosyncrasies as well as his personal and family life, not only because these provide human interest but because of their influence on the trajectory of his career.

I conclude with a brief epilogue sketching Buckland’s pioneering adoption of Louis Agassiz’s much-contested glacial theory, his promotion to be Dean of Westminster, and his melancholy death in a Clapham asylum.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Arts and Humanities > School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing
Depositing User: Chris White
Date Deposited: 31 Oct 2023 09:15
Last Modified: 31 Oct 2023 09:15
URI: https://ueaeprints.uea.ac.uk/id/eprint/93513

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