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Geological Times: Geology and New Regimes of Historicity (completed)

Geology invents and transforms time. This project investigated the advent of geology in the 18th century, as well as the way geological museums in our age of the anthropocene articulates time in their communication with the public.

About the Project

In Early Modern Europe the advent of geology was an extraordinary event in the history of science. Rocks, stones, cliffs and mountains became objects of intense scholarly attention from the middle of the 18th century onwards. In 1792 the German mineralogist Johann Ehrenreich Fichtel summed up the situation:

"I have been told that in the last decade more has been written about minerals than about theology, philosophy and law during half a century, and that articles on mineralogy are as common as hay and straw in a good year."

One important center of this incessant production of knowledge about rocks and landscapes was the Mining Seminar at Kongsberg, Det Kongelige Norske Bergseminarium, established in 1757, as Europe’s first institution for higher education in mining technology. The Mining Seminar was closely connected to the Kongsberg silver mines, which were founded in 1623, and which in the second half of the 18th century was the largest pre-industrial company in Norway, producing up to twelve tons of silver per year.

In this project we explored how the set of scientific fields and practices that we may refer to as geology, “geotheory”, or in the 18th century terminology, as “geognosy” or “mineralogy”, changes in radical ways existing regimes of historicity, that is how pasts, presents and futures are conceptualized, but also how temporal spans, speeds, and rhythms are transformed by new scientific insights or procedures.

Today´s geological museums have to negotiate time in new ways, informed by recent heritage discourses, histories of geology and new geological insights. How are regimes of historicity challenged and used in the work of geological museums today?


In addition to the on-going work by the senior researchers, the project consisted of two PhD projects, dedicated to the 18th and the 21st century respectively:

  • One PhD worked with the archives of the Mining seminar at Kongsberg, and explored how new conceptions of geological time were negotiated in relation to wider knowledge cultures in the 18th century.
  • The other PhD looked at negotiations of temporality as geology becomes heritage, i.e. how geological, historical and possibly other times are present in museums of geology today.

Together the PhDs and the senior researchers provided new knowledge about the structure and dynamics of modern regimes of temporality, by exploring and reframing the role of what we today consider as geological knowledge.

Published Sep. 21, 2015 1:37 PM - Last modified Sep. 8, 2021 1:58 PM