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Geikie, Sir Archibald

GEIKIE, SIR ARCHIBALD (1835- ), Scottish geologist, was born at Edinburgh on the 28th of December 1835. He was educated at the high school and university of Edinburgh, and in 1855 was appointed an assistant on the Geological Survey. Wielding the pen with no less facility than the hammer, he inaugurated his long list of works with The Story of a Boulder; or, Gleanings from the Note-Book of a Geologist (1858). His ability at once attracted the notice of his chief, Sir Roderick Murchison, with whom he formed a lifelong friendship, and whose biographer he subsequently became. With Murchison some of his earliest work was done on the complicated regions of the Highland schists; and the small geological map of Scotland published in 1862 was their joint work: a larger map was issued by Geikie in 1892. In 1863 he published an important essay "On the Phenomena of the Glacial Drift of Scotland," Trans. Geol. Soc. Glasgow, in which the effects of ice action in that country were for the first time clearly and connectedly delineated. In 1865 appeared Geikie's Scenery of Scotland (3rd edition, 1901), which was, he claimed, "the first attempt to elucidate in some detail the history of the topography of a country." In the same year he was elected F.R.S. At this time the Edinburgh school of geologists - prominent among them Sir Andrew Ramsay, with his Physical Geology and Geography of Great Britain - were maintaining the supreme importance of denudation in the configuration of land-surfaces, and particularly the erosion of valleys by the action of running water. Geikie's book, based on extensive personal knowledge of the country, was an able contribution to the doctrines of the Edinburgh school, of which he himself soon began to rank as one of the leaders.

In 1867, when a separate branch of the Geological Survey was established for Scotland, he was appointed director. On the foundation of the Murchison professorship of geology and mineralogy at the university of Edinburgh in 1871, he became the first occupant of the chair. These two appointments he continued to hold till 1881, when he succeeded Sir Andrew Ramsay in the joint offices of director-general of the Geological Survey of the United Kingdom and director of the museum of practical geology, London, from which he retired in February 1901. A feature of his tenure of office was the impetus given to microscopic petrography, a branch of geology to which he had devoted special study, by a splendid collection of sections of British rocks. Later he wrote two important and interesting Survey Memoirs, The Geology of Central and Western Fife and Kinross (1900), and The Geology of Eastern Fife (1902).

From the outset of his career, when he started to investigate the geology of Skye and other of the Western Isles, he took a keen interest in volcanic geology, and in 1871 he brought before the Geological Society of London an outline of the Tertiary volcanic history of Britain. Many difficult problems, however, remained to be solved. Here he was greatly aided by his extensive travels, not only throughout Europe, but in western America. While the canyons of the Colorado confirmed his long-standing views on erosion, the eruptive regions of Wyoming, Montana and Utah supplied him with valuable data in explanation of volcanic phenomena. The results of his further researches were given in an elaborate and charmingly written essay on "The History of Volcanic Action during the Tertiary Period in the British Isles," Trans. Roy. Soc. Edin., (1888). His mature views on volcanic geology were given to the world in his presidential addresses to the Geological Society in 1891 and 1892, and afterwards embodied in his great work on The Ancient Volcanoes of Great Britain (1897). Other results of his travels are collected in his Geological Sketches at Home and Abroad (1882).

His experience as a field geologist resulted in an admirable text-book, Outlines of Field Geology (5th edition, 1900). After editing and practically re-writing Jukes's Student's Manual of Geology in 1872, he published in 1882 a Text-Book and in 1886 a Class-Book of geology, which have taken rank as standard works of their kind. A fourth edition of his Text-Book, in two vols., was issued in 1903. His writings are marked in a high degree by charm of style and power of vivid description. His literary ability has given him peculiar qualifications as a writer of scientific biography, and the Memoir of Edward Forbes (with G. Wilson), and those of his old chiefs, Sir R.I. Murchison (2 vols., 1875) and Sir Andrew Crombie Ramsay (1895), are models of what such works should be. His Founders of Geology consists of the inaugural course of Lectures (founded by Mrs G.H. Williams) at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, delivered in 1897. In 1897 he issued an admirable Geological Map of England and Wales, with Descriptive Notes. In 1898 he delivered the Romanes Lectures, and his address was published under the title of Types of Scenery and their Influence on Literature. The study of geography owes its improved position in Great Britain largely to his efforts. Among his works on this subject is The Teaching of Geography (1887). His Scottish Reminiscences (1904) and Landscape in History and other Essays (1905) are charmingly written and full of instruction. He was foreign secretary of the Royal Society from 1890 to 1894, joint secretary from 1903 to 1908, president in 1909, president of the Geological Society in 1891 and 1892, and president of the British Association, 1892. He received the honour of knighthood in 1891.

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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