College or School
Faculty Research Advisor
The topic of my Honor’s thesis the early 19th Century Geologist and Theologian Edward Hitchcock. By personally collecting and cataloging the Connecticut Valleys wealth of fossil tracks, Edward Hitchcock became familiar to the greatest scientific minds of his day as the first to systematically identify fossil tracks anywhere in the world. Under the guidance of Prof. Golinski, I have researched Hitchcock’s influence on the America’s culture, scientific institutions, and the field of natural history. This presentation will discuss Hitchcock’s interest in romantic naturalism and his legacy in American art and literature.
Today, Hitchcock’s work makes up the world’s largest collection of Dinosaur tracks at Amherst College. In the vault pictured here, visitors will find a book that symbolizes centuries of thought on the relationship between God and the natural world. This unique text has leaves of stone, and is bound in wrought iron. Each turn of the geologic page reveals a clearer image of a three toed track created at a single moment about 200 million years ago. Hitchcock felt strongly that geology must be read as a record of the past just as true as the Bible. Hitchcock worked in the time before Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859, but after Geology had demonstrated that the earth took far longer to form than what was described in Genesis.
In order to satisfy his commitments to both Science and Christianity Hitchcock made creative interpretations of the Bible in the field of Natural Theology. Meanwhile, Hitchcock tried to create a neutral space in which these ideas and scientific work in general could be discussed by advocating for a shared appreciation for the sublime aesthetic wonders of nature. This is something that many atheists and religious zealots could agree on without delving into the divisive assumptions that lay beneath. This approach left an unmistakable footprint on the development of early American Science and culture. However, Hitchcock’s eccentricities have overshadowed his accomplishments. For much of the 20th century Hitchcock was overlooked or caricatured in the history of geology.
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 License.
Cowley, Steven, "Edward Hitchcock: The Religion of Geology and the Romantic Sublime" (2016). Undergraduate Research Conference (URC) Student Presentations. 16.