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

II
THE PROGRESS OF GEOLOGICAL SCIENCE

Cuvier's new appreciation of the value of geological work was probably based not only on what he saw it could do for his own research on fossil vertebrates, but also on what he learned about geology around this time, in the course of preparing a review of all the natural history sciences. Early in 1808, the Institut presented Napoleon with a massive compilative review of the progress of the sciences since the start of the Revolution in 1789.

Cuvier shared the burden of preparing the report with the other permanent secretary of the scientific class of the Institut. Jean-Baptiste- Joseph Delambre ( 1749- 1822) dealt with the "mathematical" sciences; Cuvier, with the "natural" sciences of chemistry and natural history and with the applied sciences (fig.15).1 Even that division of labor left each with a vast field to cover, although of course they made full use of their colleagues as informants on particular subjects. The arrangement of their report reflected the classification of the sciences that was standard at this

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1
A similar report on the humanities was presented by the historian Bon-Josephe Dacier ( 1742-1833) two weeks later ( Rapport historique, 1810); it reviewed the progress of research in the realm of the class for history and ancient literature. The class for "moral and political sciences," or in modern terms the social sciences, had been suppressed by Napoleon in 1803; like certain authoritarian politicians in modern times, he regarded such studies as potentially subversive.

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