Georges Cuvier, Fossil Bones, and Geological Catastrophes: New Translations & Interpretations of the Primary Texts

By M. J. S. Rudwick; George Cuvier | Go to book overview

8
POPULAR LECTURES ON GEOLOGY

Cuvier's repeated sniping at "geology" and "geologists" must have infuriated his colleague Faujas, the professor of that science at the Muséum, particularly since the criticism was so relentlessly negative. Cuvier might claim, as in his paper on the fossil opossum (text 8), that his goal was to throw light on "geology," not to cause its practitioners embarrassment; but this must have sounded hollow, as long as he so consistently refrained from making any positive suggestions about the geological implications of his research. However, Cuvier's reluctance to be more explicit about his own conjectures was clearly related to what he saw as the disciplinary status of the various sciences. He was concerned above all to promote his own science of comparative anatomy, by showing it was as rigorous as the physical sciences; if it was to be applied--in the matter of fossils--to the speculative area of "geology" or "theory of the earth," the contrast had to be firmly established.

Those disciplinary constraints could be relaxed, however, if he was not primarily addressing his colleagues. In 1805 he gave courses of lectures both at the Athenaeum and at the Collége de France, bearing for the first time the title "Geology"; and his course on physiology at the latter institution was also introduced with lectures on geology.1 These

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1
The surviving records of the lectures (see below) make it likely, but not certain, that he spoke about "geology" in three separate courses. The manuscripts need much more detailed study, before

-74-

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