Object of the Month:
Lapworth's notebook


Derren, a PhD student in structural geology, describes his choice of one of Charles Lapworth's field notebooks as Object of the Month at the Lapworth Museum of Geology

Video transcript here

Hi I'm Derren Cresswell, a third year PhD student in structural geology. My chosen object is this collection of field sketches and maps produced by Charles Lapworth. My interest in these stemmed from my undergraduate studies in the early 1990s where, during field trips to North Yorkshire and the Isle of Arran, much of the theory I'd been taught in lectures and laboratories was put into practice and began to take deeper significance. How small observations made in the field can provide insight into geological processes and help us develop a three-dimensional understanding of the rocks and structures that lie beneath our feet.

Lapworth, who initially trained as an art teacher, was an amateur geologist living in the southern uplands of Scotland where he undertook field studies. By detailed field mapping and careful observations with fossil graptolites he managed to provide a new interpretation not only of the structure of the rocks that form the area but also provide the detail in understanding how the sequence in evolution of the animals preserved as fossils allow us to understand the relative ages of the rocks formed 540-420 million years ago. It was this work that led to his appointment as Professor of Geology at Mason College, the forerunner of the University of Birmingham.

Lapworth’s maps and notes show very clearly how he came about this understanding. Simple maps are used to evolve ideas into much more detailed three-dimensional understanding of the geological structure. By nature, I'm not a very neat writer or drawer so I’ve had to develop techniques that allow me to record observations accurately. It is reassuring to see that Lapworth’s notes and maps are a mix of beautifully drawn cross-sections and maps, and quickly drawn conceptual ideas and rapidly written, very brief notes and annotations. The latter being more akin to my own scruffy notebooks.

Despite advanced techniques for looking at the earth, all geological ideas should be observed in the rocks. The skill of making and recording observations and interpretations is still essential for modern geologists. Lapworth’s field books are both a reminder how our understanding has developed and of the key skills that make good scientists; making observations and recording them.