<p><br></p>


James Hutton

JUNE 14, 2016

James Hutton, a Scottish geologist, was born June 14, 1726, in Edinburgh. Of the many persons who have been awarded the title of “Father of Geology,” Hutton is the most deserving, in our opinion. While nearly all of his contemporaries argued that the earth...

Scientist of the Day - James Hutton








James Hutton, a Scottish geologist, was born June 14, 1726, in Edinburgh. Of the many persons who have been awarded the title of "Father of Geology," Hutton is the most deserving, in our opinion. While nearly all of his contemporaries argued that the earth had been shaped by catastrophic floods, Hutton believed that small forces, such as erosion and uplift, acting over long periods of time, could create all the changes we see on the earth's surface. This doctrine, set forth in 1788 and known afterwards as uniformitarianism, eventually became one of the fundamental pillars of earth science, especially after it was adopted by Charles Lyell in the 1830s. Hutton further argued that certain rocks, such as basalt and granite, had cooled from a molten state, and were not laid down from aqueous deposits as others maintained. This proposal came to be known as plutonism, and Lyell accepted it as the other pillar of his Principles of Geology (1830-33).

Hutton's initial paper on uniformitarianism, "Theory of the Earth" (1788), was featured in our 2004 exhibition, Vulcan's Forge and Fingal’s Cave. We also have Hutton's subsequent book, Theory of the Earth (1795), in our Collection, which is the source for four of the images above. The first depicts the now-famous unconformity at Jeburgh, where an immense gap of time separates the two sets of strata pictured. Hutton’s portrait was painted by Henry Raeburn and hangs in the National Galleries of Scotland in Edinburgh.

Dr. William B. Ashworth, Jr., Consultant for the History of Science, Linda Hall Library and Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Missouri-Kansas City. Comments or corrections are welcome; please direct to ashworthw@umkc.edu.

More