The World History Oracle integrates poetry, history and word definition. Inspired by the I Ching or The Chinese Book of Changes, it is an experiment to combine genres of thought.
The hum of its labor
A greater treasure
Than the pain of its sting
Praise bees multiply.
1831 – William Smith is the First Recipient of the Wollaston Medal; the duty of a prestigious scientific organization to document the path of scientific discovery honestly is restored.
William Smith (1769-1839) led the way for geology to become a major science in the 19th century. Now referred to as the father of geology, his due recognition in the field of geology came slow during his lifetime.
During Smith’s lifetime, geologists in good standing with the Geological Society of London had the best prospects to receive financial backing for their research. While Smith’s substantive contributions to the field of geology were known to and absorbed by members of the society throughout his career, Smith was not invited to become a member himself until near the end of his life. An often cited reason for the exclusion is societal rank was an essential criteria to become a member of the society; Smith was the orphaned son of a blacksmith. There was also professional jealousy to confront—how to maneuver the-powers-that-be away from presiding theories to make room for Smith’s pioneering research. Smith paid a heavy price personally for the delay of his recognition.
William Smith was born in Churchill, Oxfordhshire. Smith collected fossils as a boy and this interest led him to obtain a job working as the assistant for the master surveyor Edward Webb. Webb came to Churchill at the bequest of wealthy farmers to help them turn local fields in efficient farms. As Webb’s assistant, Smith traveled around the country and his career continued to earn a living as a field worker researching for coal prospectors the best places to mine for coal. This work supported him financially as well as gave him the opportunity to research how fossils and rocks were placed in the earth throughout England and Scotland. He observed a pattern to rock layers never before discovered that led to his paper “Law of Faunal Succession.” He then went on to publish A Geological Map of England and Wales and Part of Scotland in 1815.
This map changed how we view the physical world forever. Accolades at the time, however, were slow to come for Smith’s accomplishments. Instead scandals ensued. George Bellas Greenough, one of the Society’s wealthy founders, published a map in 1820 of such similarity to Smith’s A Geological Map of England and Wales and Part of Scotland, he was publicly accused of plagiarizing Smith’s 1815 version. Smith’s contributions were repeatedly diminished, obscured and. in the case of Greenough, plagiarized by less enterprising scientists who were in a position of power to take credit for his work.
“…I have been accused of having acted, if not an unfair, at least an ungenerous part, by trespassing upon ground, which I knew to be, by right of pre-occupancy, his [Smith]. I certainly did know, as early as the year 1804, that such a map was begun; but I appeal to all the friends of Mr Smith, with whom I have conversed upon the subject, and especially to the individual who complains of my conduct, whether he, and they did not, for a long time afterwards, in consequence of a variety of circumstances which it is unnecessary to detail, consider its completion, and still more its publication, hopeless. In the belief that the work had been virtually abandoned by Smith, it was undertaken by me.…Mr Smith’s map was not seen by me till after its publication, and the use I have since made of it has been very limited. The two maps agree in many respects, not because the one has been copied from the other, but because both are correct.…” [from Greenough, G B, ‘Memoir of a Geological Map of England: to Which are Added, an Alphabetical Index to the Hills, and a List of the Hills Arranged According to Counties’ (1820), p4.]
Smith understood the worth of his research. He persisted in his efforts to gain recognition. Naturally, he struggled with resentment and envy for his exclusion and that led him to make reckless personal choices at times. His wife suffered from mental illness; this must have been very hard on him as well. He bought an expensive apartment in London he couldn’t afford -a lifestyle he thought would result in opening social doors to receive his professional and financial due. Shortly after his great map was published, however, he ended up in debtors prison. He and his wife were homeless for years.
Good fortune finally came Smith’s way in 1828, when William Hyde Wollaston bequeathed funds to the Geological Society of London to give out an annual award. The Wollaston Medal was and remains the highest award given out by the Geological Society of London. Smith was its first recipient in 1831. Wollaston was not a geologist, but a chemist. The Wollaston medal was originally made of palladium, a medal Wollaston discovered.
A generation later, John Phillips, Smith’s nephew and biographer, went on to name the major eras in today’s geologic timescale: Paleozoic (ancient life), Mesozoic (middle life), and Cenozoic (new life). These periods were based on the fossil record, much of it documented by Smith. Smith’s “Principle of Faunal Succession” otherwise known as the “Law of Faunal Succession” led to researchers in other fields of scientific study, culminated in the work of Charles Darwin, to reconsider how time came to be.
The Map That Changed the World by Simon Winchester. Harper Collins.
Definition of hindsight in English:
Understanding of a situation or event only after it has happened or developed:with hindsight, I should never have gone