New publication: Tracings of the north of Europe: Robert Chambers in search of the Ice Age

By Geir Hestmark* in Annals of Science


Scottish publisher and naturalist Robert Chambers pursued an amateur interest in geology through much of his life. His early measurements of raised beaches in Scotland earned him membership in the Geological Society of London in 1844, a recognition much appreciated by the anonymous author of the ‘scandalous’ Vestiges published the same year. Although familiar with emerging ice age theories, Chambers remained with most British geologists a sceptic through the 1840s, even after a trip to the glaciers of the Alps in 1848, which nevertheless prepared him for the turning point, which came in 1849 during an extensive field trip in Norway and Sweden. Here a wealth of observations left him in no doubt that vast glaciers had formerly covered Scandinavia, polishing cliffs, scouring striations, depositing old moraines and erratic boulders. This also led him to a new glacial reading of the British landscape, and with the ardent conviction of a fresh convert he became one of the most vocal supporters of glacial theory in Britain in the 1850s at a time when the iceberg drift theory for boulder transport was still favoured by most prominent British geologists. While Chambers through his popular Chambers’s Edinburgh Journal communicated his travels and ice age vision to a wide audience, and also pointed out ice age evidence on guided excursions around Edinburgh, he did not enter this new vision into subsequent editions of Vestiges, probably in order not to reveal its author. This paper explores Chambers’s contributions to the ice age debate, his field trips and the genesis of his convictions, and evaluates his impact on the scientific debate.

Published online: 19 Oct 2017
DOI: 10.1080/00033790.2017.1390154
Publication webpage.

*Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Synthesis, Department of Biosciences, University of Oslo, Oslo 1066, Norway

Tags: Annals of Science;
Published Nov. 22, 2017 12:09 PM - Last modified Nov. 22, 2017 2:58 PM