Geological Society of London
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Life and ideas of Giovanni Capellini (1833–1922): a palaeontological revolution in Italy

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posted on 2016-06-21, 12:24 authored by Federico Fanti

During the nineteenth century Europe and then America were the focal points for major advances in the study of palaeontology and the great, often acrimonious, debate on evolutionary theory. Natural history was one of the great educational disciplines of the day and those involved were part of an educated elite who practised as medics, clergymen, chemists and anatomists. Some were shy and retiring, others forceful even bombastic, sometimes evil by intent. Many were driven by fame and it was their wish to discover the best, the biggest and the most important specimens they could get their hands on. Others were great orators who could defend a cause; some were the first of many who became diligent and careful in the collection and storage of material or brilliant field scientists who taught us the importance of observation, data gathering and interpretation of sedimentary successions worldwide. Being considered worthy of joining such an elite social, scientific circle was an immense tribute to their contribution to the natural sciences. It was an honour denied William Smith who lacked the educational background of the middle classes of the time, but given in abundance to the Italian scientist Giovanni Capellini who was born into an upper middle-class Italian family and who received a classic ecclesiastical training before venturing into the natural sciences.