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Notebook No. 4 Update

During this lockdown, the Lyell Project has been able to continue enhancing metadata, despite having no access to the Lyell notebooks, thanks to some quick digitisation done by the amazing team at the DIU prior to lockdown. We’ve been working quite a bit with Notebook No. 4, from 1827, when Lyell was balancing his two callings; the law and geology. In 1825 his eyesight was no longer ailing him as it had been years previously, and following his father’s wishes, he was called to the bar and joined the Western Circuit for two years. But during this time, as we can see from the Notebook, he also maintained fervent correspondence with fellow geologists, read the works of George Poulett Scrope, and Lamarck, and thereby fostered a great curiosity for the volcanic Auvergne region in France. In 1825 he joined Scrope as a Secretary to the Geological Society, and contributed frequently to the Quarterly Review (published by John Murray, the archive of issues are available with EASE access here).

This notebook is a fascinating look into this dichotomy Lyell was facing; pages constantly change between matters of law and geology. He expresses great passion and opinion on both, but his notes concerning law and society are often tinged with a sense of discontentedness, whereas his entries on geology are mostly “Queries” about the properties of geological phenomena, or discussions on how he disagrees with a recently published position.

Another curious element in this notebook is the inclusion of citations to works by Dante, namely Dante’s Inferno. These appear often among entries on other subject, and without explanation. Clearly, this an excellent area of research, as we know Lyell’s father was a great scholar on Dante.

That’s all for today’s update! Explore Notebook No. 4 for yourself here!

For more information about the Lyell notebooks, see Lyell Rocks! Saving & Sharing the Charles Lyell Notebooks

The Not-So-Lonely Lockdown of the Transcribing Geologists

Lockdown may seem frustrating and tiresome to some, but it has made space for a few spontaneous and unexpected collaborations!

Over the last month with many “physical” tasks on hold, I have been able to peruse the sections of the Lyell notebooks which were digitised before the introduction of social distancing and the subsequent shut down of the University buildings. And far from being a lonely task – the notebooks have proven to be one of the most social activities I have ever worked on! As it turns out Twitter has a host of geologists, curators, PhD students, as well as academics in subjects ranging from the ideals of Victorian masculinity, to geomorphology… all just waiting to chip in their thoughts on what exactly Charles Lyell was thinking – and its more than likely they are all there because lockdown has disrupted their regular routines.

Now before we start, admittedly there have been some criticism of the notebooks. There is a much more standardised approach to how people “do” notebooks these days, especially in the field: Sketches must have an orientation, a scale bar and some annotation. So there have been a few comments that Sir Charles wouldn’t score very highly if he were an undergraduate summiting his work for assessment.

As a founder of modern geology, it’s important to note how the science has evolved since then, incorporating standards of which Lyell certainly would approve. A very generous statement on twitter from Professor Simon Mudd (@SimonMariusMudd), School of GeoSciences:

“I haven’t spent much time with these notebooks, but from what I have seen this (see sketch below) is the typical quality of the sketches. He was more of a ‘big ideas’ rather than ‘detailed sketches’ type of person.”

Lyell’s oversights in these areas, however, has not been too great an impediment for lively debate, especially when the diagram seems to be a bit of a mystery.

Last week I posted this sketch from notebook 4 on Twitter.

What is it?!? Is it rivers? Oxbow lakes? Waves crashing onto the shore of… Norfolk?

Cue a volley of guesses:

“A Sea-serpent?”

“You are all so wrong, it says “Loch Ness” and here, in the middle, you have Nessy…”

“Was he just bored and doodling??”

So it is true – nothing is sacred to the internet – not even one of the founding fathers of geology’s notebook!

But with the fun came a conclusion: this illustration in Notebook 4 is likely a map of sand banks off the Norfolk coast. Lo and behold, Andy Emery, the geomorphist, produced a map!

And YES – The sketch maybe isn’t as inaccurate as we had initially thought! But how did Lyell know what the submarine landscape off the coast of Norfolk look like in 1827?

There is a good chance that local fisher men would have known about these features, as they are shallower and depending on tides and currents, they might have been the best place to go fishing… or the worst place to run your boat aground.

Another of our online-super-sleuths, Jonny Scafidi (@jonafushi),  messaged to say “On p.308 of Principles of Geology he mentions a Captain Hewett, R. N. who, according to p.56 of Memoirs of Hydrography, Volume 1 by Commander L.S. Dawson R.N. undertook a great survey of the N. Sea”. Most of Captain Hewett’s surveys where completed in the 1830’s but there is mention of a survey in 1822 – 5 years before Lyell sketched this diagram in his book. So it is possible Lyell had access to some surveys.

We will never know for certain where Lyell got the information that inspired this sketch. But what we can prove is that social media can be used to explore a whole array of different angles when investigating historical notebooks!

Stay tuned for more exciting installments of #TranscriptionTime over at @CockburnGeol and try your hand at deciphering the thoughts of historical scientists and collectors.

Thanks to the Science twitterati who helped with this mystery between 9.27am and 10.33am on 24th April:

Andy Emery (@AndyDoggerBank) – RA in Energy Transition, School of Earth & Environment, University of Leeds

Jonny Scafidi (@jonafushi) – PhD candidate, School of GeoSciences, University of Edinburgh

Simon Mudd (@SimonMariusMudd) – Professor of Geomorphology, School of GeoSciences, University of Edinburgh

John Faithfull (@FaithfullJohn) – Curator, Hunterian Museum & Art Gallery

Dan Hobley (@Siccar_Point) – Lecturer, School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, Cardiff Univeristy

Rich Taylor (@RockhoundRich) – Geoscience Applications Development at ZEISS Microscopy

Mikael Attal (@mickymicky06s) – Senior lecturer in Geomorphology, School of GeoSciences, University of Edinburgh

 

Dr. Gillian McCay

Curator, Cockburn Museum

@CockburnGeol