Dominican University of California
 

Presentation or Panel Title

Josiah Dwight Whitney and the California Geological Survey

Location

Guzman 113, Dominican University of California

Start Date

4-20-2017 1:00 PM

End Date

4-20-2017 1:15 PM

Department

History

Student Type

Undergraduate

Faculty Mentor

Jordan Lieser, Ph.D.

Presentation Format

Oral Presentation

Abstract/Description

Some of the earliest governmental support of scientific inquiry in America came from publicly funded geological surveys in the early-to-mid nineteenth century. These surveys garnered popularity in both state legislatures and scientific communities for their ability to serve a lucrative public purpose and popularize scientific exploration. While legislatures often held the misguided belief that geologists would locate and evaluate resources for individual or state economic exploitation, geologists’ saw these surveys as opportunities to catalog the description, origins, and history of natural resources. For the most part, publicly funded Surveys were successful at negotiating these differences. In this regard, California’s failed State Geological Survey (1860-1874) acts as a historical anomaly. The California Survey was bestowed with significant advantages; it had a sizable budget and was staffed by a team of promising scientists and explorers. Despite these advantages, the Whitney Survey was abolished in 1874 due to seemingly “inevitable” problems. Historical evidence suggests a number of complex factors: shifting party politics in the State Legislature, concessions of “pure” science for “applied” science, concerns for mining interests, and upholding the financial demands of the survey. These problems are given greater significance when examined within a greater historical argument focusing on the campaign for professional legitimacy within the scientific community, and the campaign for State legitimacy during the final period of formation in the Union. Relating to the overall history of environmentalism and exploration in the American West, this paper draws its conclusions from extensive archival research: examining the letters of Josiah Dwight Whitney (the Survey leader) the records of the State Legislature, newspaper articles, and historical geological lectures at local institutions. This case study considers the impact of California’s failed Survey’s on the field of American geology, and situates its conclusions within the historical research fields of science and technology, environmentalism, and western expansion.

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Apr 20th, 1:00 PM Apr 20th, 1:15 PM

Josiah Dwight Whitney and the California Geological Survey

Guzman 113, Dominican University of California

Some of the earliest governmental support of scientific inquiry in America came from publicly funded geological surveys in the early-to-mid nineteenth century. These surveys garnered popularity in both state legislatures and scientific communities for their ability to serve a lucrative public purpose and popularize scientific exploration. While legislatures often held the misguided belief that geologists would locate and evaluate resources for individual or state economic exploitation, geologists’ saw these surveys as opportunities to catalog the description, origins, and history of natural resources. For the most part, publicly funded Surveys were successful at negotiating these differences. In this regard, California’s failed State Geological Survey (1860-1874) acts as a historical anomaly. The California Survey was bestowed with significant advantages; it had a sizable budget and was staffed by a team of promising scientists and explorers. Despite these advantages, the Whitney Survey was abolished in 1874 due to seemingly “inevitable” problems. Historical evidence suggests a number of complex factors: shifting party politics in the State Legislature, concessions of “pure” science for “applied” science, concerns for mining interests, and upholding the financial demands of the survey. These problems are given greater significance when examined within a greater historical argument focusing on the campaign for professional legitimacy within the scientific community, and the campaign for State legitimacy during the final period of formation in the Union. Relating to the overall history of environmentalism and exploration in the American West, this paper draws its conclusions from extensive archival research: examining the letters of Josiah Dwight Whitney (the Survey leader) the records of the State Legislature, newspaper articles, and historical geological lectures at local institutions. This case study considers the impact of California’s failed Survey’s on the field of American geology, and situates its conclusions within the historical research fields of science and technology, environmentalism, and western expansion.