The Geologists’ Association: An overview
Diana Clements (UK)
The Geologists’ Association (GA) was formed in 1858 and, from its inception, was an inclusive organisation set up to embrace both professional and amateur geologists, unlike the Geological Society, some 50 years older, which was only intended for professionals. Women were accepted from the beginning – similar organisations of the time were habitually men only. It was intended as a meeting-place for like-minded people and fieldtrips were always an important part of the Associations’ activities. As early as 1895, Local Groups around the country were set up to extend activities nationwide; now we have 17 Local Groups with a further 72 other geologically-related societies that are affiliated with the GA. The aims that we adhere to now were developed gradually and foremost among them is to make geology available to a wider public.
The Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association first appeared in 1859, only a year after its formation, and included written papers presented first to members at the Friday lectures and the write-ups from the early fieldtrips. These are often important historical documents of geology in a bygone age, no longer visible, particularly in urban environments.
As well as the images in the write-ups, the GA possesses a large archive of photographs and associated ephemera documenting the activities of the Association since the late nineteenth century. The archive was well cared-for over very many years by Marjorie Carreck and is now named in her honour – the Carreck Archive. Through collaboration with the British Geological Survey, the collection is now being digitised and a number of important albums are available online – a great asset for anyone studying their local geology. To find out more about the Carreck Archive and the online resource, go to: https://geologistsassociation.org.uk/archive.html.
Fieldtrips remain a mainstay of our activities, both in the UK and abroad. Mervyn Jones’ write-up of a trip to the Dorset coast in June 2017 (The Jurassic Coast (or is it?) with the Geologists’ Association) gives a flavour of current trips. These are very varied and include ambitious trips overseas. In September 2017, we visit China and, in recent years, trips to New Zealand, Japan, Thailand and India have been among the more far-flung destinations. Back at home, in 2016, we followed in the footsteps of a GA trip led by William Whitaker to the Goring Gap, travelling by river boat from Reading.
Our GA Guides are often written by leaders of our fieldtrips. There are currently 44 guides available, which can be purchased from the shop on the GA website. The two most recent guides are both written by John Cope – the 2016 revision of the Geology of the Dorset Coast and Geology of the South Devon Coast.
Another way in which we promote the study of Geology and its allied sciences is by holding lectures at our London base within the Geological Society’s premises in Burlington House, Piccadilly, encouraging discussion among members by providing refreshments both before and after the event. As with our annual conference, we invite members of the public to attend as well as our own members. (For example, this year, a talk was given by long-time Deposits contributor and ichthyosaur expert, Dean Lomax, entitled The incredible ichthyosaurs: a reassessment of a British Jurassic icon.) Most of the lectures are now available online for our more distant members to view at leisure.
The Annual Conference aims to serve other areas of the UK by moving to different venues around the country each year and is organised with the relevant local groups to provide a theme that is of interest to the local community. In 2016, our conference was held on the Isle of Portland, Dorset, with the title: The Jurassic Coast: geoscience and education. We were delighted to welcome representatives from many of the organisations and individuals who are involved with the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site. The 2017 conference was held in Cardiff, entitled: Climate: past, present and future.
In 2017, we embarked on a new venture aimed specifically at students, allowing them to showcase their studies. The topic – Geology and societal change: What difference does your research make? – attracted a wide range of fascinating talks and posters, all extremely well delivered, and the GA Student Symposium is something we hope we will be able to repeat in future years.
Another way in which we help students is with our annual prizes and research grants. Over the years, as funds have become available from donations and legacies, the number of these has grown, so that in 2016 we were able to give away about £50,000. Not all of this was to students and more than half of it was from our Curry Fund – money generously donated by Dennis Curry of electrical goods fame.
Applications for grants from the Curry Fund come from a wide range of activities, but are very often connected to geoconservation and geological interpretation. Full details and an application form are available on the GA website (see below). Geoconservaton is another topic that the GA aims to foster, both centrally and through our groups. In addition to grants, the GA awards a number of prizes and medals annually to those who have actively promoted geology or helped the GA to achieve this aim.
Our main outreach event is our annual Festival of Geology, which, for some years, has been held at University College London.
This grew out of an annual reunion where members of fieldtrips could re-unite and our Local Groups and Affiliated Societies could come together. Now it is much more, with popular lectures and a building stone walk around the campus and a large focus on activities for families, spear-headed by our Junior Club, ‘Rockwatch’. We are also delighted to incorporate activities and events from UCL students, who help in many ways and contribute to its success. We display the entries in the photographic competition and the three winners are presented with their prizes. We now select 12 images from among these, past entries and our Carrick Archive for the GA calendar.
The GA took on Rockwatch in 1991. It is our club for children, and young people and their families, who are interested in things geological – rocks, fossils, minerals and landscape. The activities are aimed at junior members under the age of 16 and for older young people between 16 to 18 years old.
We also cater for school children with our SchoolRocks! box containing rocks, minerals and fossils with a USB stick detailing ways in which the specimens can be used to enhance the National Curriculum. For our 150th birthday celebration in 2008, we commissioned a series of PowerPoint presentations on aspects of geology, again aimed at the classroom.
The eleven topics range from volcanoes, natural hazards and plate tectonics, to dinosaurs and evolution, and are available on our website. Another recent outreach initiative is GeoLab, working with our groups around the country to provide a day of introduction to geology, with a general workshop followed by an afternoon in the field, looking for the principles discussed earlier. We try to hold such events within Earth Science Week in mid-October, if at all possible.
The peer reviewed journal, Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association (PGA), was the first of our publications and it has gone from strength to strength. In 2009, the publication was taken on by Elsevier under the editorship of Jim Rose and the number of issues has risen from four annually to six, with a steady flow of papers continuing to come in. Most papers are by professionals, but the journal does publish the work of amateurs too.
One of the objectives of the GA is to contribute to scientific knowledge and the PGA is our route to that. Geoconservation papers in the PGA have been extremely highly cited and include descriptions of Geological Conservation Review (GCR) sites, which are used to underpin statutory designation of nationally important geological Sites of Special Scientific Interest (or SSSIs).
The PGA regularly produces special issues focussing on particular topics often based on the proceedings of our Annual Conference. Write-ups of trips of scientific value continue to be published in the PGA, but most of our trips are now written-up by participants and published in our GA Magazine, where they can be well illustrated with colour photographs. All back issues of the PGA have been scanned by Elsevier and are available online to members and subscribing institutions.
The GA library is housed at University College London in the Science Library. It is not kept as a discrete collection: the books and periodicals are within the geology collection and maps are kept in the map room on the first floor. All members of the GA may use the University College Library.
Since 1979, the GA has been privileged to share office space within the premises of the Geological Society of London at Burlington House (where, on the stairs, there is an original of William Smith’s famous geological map of England and Wales). It is an excellent Central London position and we are able to use the Janet Watson Lecture Theatre for our talks.
We have a Memorandum of Understanding with the Geological Society and co-operate whenever mutual benefit can be achieved. We are well supported by our two administrative officers, Sarah Stafford, the Executive Secretary and Geraldine Marshall who is also Rockwatch co-ordinator. They can be contacted in the GA office by phone on 020 7434 9298 or by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org. All our activities are supported by our website at: www.geologistsassociation.org.uk, where the contacts for our Local Groups and Affiliated Societies are also listed.
About the author
Diana Clements is Honorary General Secretary of the Geologists’ Association. She also edited and compiled GA guide No 68 The Geology of London. She is a Scientific Associate at the Natural History Museum where, among other things, she is currently working with the William Smith fossil collection. She continues her interest with London geology as a member the Sites Working Group of the London Geodiversity Partnership.