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The competition for the Woodwardian Chair of Geology, Cambridge 1873.

O'Connor, A. (2005) 'The competition for the Woodwardian Chair of Geology, Cambridge 1873.', British journal for the history of science., 38 (4). pp. 437-461.


In 1873 the chair of geology at the University of Cambridge fell vacant following the death of Adam Sedgwick. Nine candidates stepped forward, hoping to fill the post. The correspondence generated in the ensuing battle illuminates two areas of particular interest. First, the strategies hidden behind bland lists of successive professors: candidates, peers and patrons manoeuvred to influence the outcome of the competition and competitors tried to reinforce their geological respectability by collecting testimonials from estimable geological acquaintances. Second, the Woodwardian competition inspired some outspoken opinions from British geologists about the relative worth of the candidates, which offer a fresh perspective on the process of professionalization in nineteenth-century science. The applicants came from various backgrounds, including gentlemanly amateurs, clerical geologists, Survey geologists and professors. Judging from the opinions of their peers, it seems that a non-professional or clerical status was rarely of primary concern in defining geological respectability at this time.

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Publisher statement:This paper has been published in a revised form subsequent to editorial input by Cambridge University Press in "British journal for the history of science" (38: 4 (2007) 437-461) © 2005 British Society for the History of Science
Record Created:01 Dec 2008
Last Modified:31 Aug 2011 09:22

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