Published on August 16th, 2022 | by Elsa Panciroli


Episode 142/143: The Palaeontographical Society

The year 2022 marks the 175th anniversary of The Palaeontographical Society. Established in 1847, PalSoc is the world’s oldest Society devoted specifically to the advancement of palaeontological knowledge. The primary role of PalSoc initially was to promote the description and illustration of British fossils, which it does through its monographs. These set the standard for depictions of fossils in scientific literature, and provided an outlet for palaeontologists to disseminate comprehensive descriptions and systematics of British extinct flora and fauna. Despite its vintage, very little has been written about this illustrious society.

In the first part of this two-part episode, we speak to Dr Victor Monnin, a historian of science who specialises in the history of palaeontology, especially palaeoart. We find out why he is excited at the prospect of further research into the history of the Society, and he explains how PalSoc influenced the way in which fossils were visually represented in scientific literature.

In part two we speak to Dr Caroline Buttler, a palaeontologist from National Museums of Wales, and the first woman president of PalSoc. She tells us how PalSoc is changing to meet the needs of the palaeontological community in the 21st Century, and we discuss the place of scientific monographs in modern scientific practice. She also reflects on the slow pace of change when it comes to diversity in scientific societies, and the role that women have played in PalSoc since its formation.

The first president and early members of the Palaeontographical Society included some of the most famous names in 19th Century palaeontology. Clockwise starting top left: Henry Thomas de la Beche (founding president), Gideon Mantell, Richard Owen, and Charles Darwin.
Despite being the oldest society dedicated to palaeontology in the world, the Palaeontographical Society is not well represented in historiographies of science. This lithograph is one of the few historical images related to the society. It depicts Sir Richard Owen at a dinner party, with the attending council members represented by extinct animals. It may include Mary Anning in the form of the long-necked marine reptile on the left of the table, but this could instead be one of the Society’s early female members. Lithograph by A. Orton after E. C. Rye.
Plate 28 by J. Delarue in Alcide d’Orbigny’s 1840-1842 Paléontologie française. Tome I. Terrains crétacés. This was produced at a time when the depiction of fossils in science was being standardised, a process the Palaeontographical Society played a key role in.
Victor Monin’s favourite monographic plate is Plate VII by Joseph Dinkel in Richard Owen’s 1853 monograph of the Fossil Chelonian Reptiles of the Wealden Clays and Purbeck Limestones.
Victor Monnin, Adjunct Professor of Humanities at Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, and Associate Researcher at the Archives Henri-Poincaré, Philosophie et Recherches sur les Sciences et les Technologies CNRS – Université de Lorraine – Université de Strasbourg.
Dr Caroline Buttler, who is Co-Acting Head of Natural Sciences and Head of Palaeontology at the Museum of Wales. Caroline is also the first female president of the Palaeontographical Society in its 175 year history.
Although the Palaeontographical Society was founded by some of the big names in early palaeontology – all of them men – a further look into their history reveals the huge role of women as collectors, illustrators, researchers, council members and funding awardees in the Palaeontographical Society. You can learn more in Panciroli et al. (2020).
Pages from the first Palaeontographical Society Monograph, on the mollusc fossils from the Crag (Wood, 1848).. The society’s principle remit is the publication of monographs, which continues to this day. Some of the fossils in this first volume were collected by Miss Mary Ann Alexander of Ipswich, also one of the first female members of the society as recorded in the 1848 membership lists.
Palaeontographical Society Council Annual General Meeting 2022, held at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. The first time a PalSoc AGM has been held outside of London. Left to right: Dr Alex Liu, Dr Tim McCormick, Dr Imran Rahman, Dr Nigel Ainsworth, Miss Emma Bernard, Dr Caroline Buttler (current President), Dr Ben Moon, Dr Susan Evans, Dr Elsa Panciroli, Dr Susan Beardmore.

Link to Palaeontographical Society website: https://palaeosoc.org/

Link to back catalogue of PalSoc monographs: https://www.tandfonline.com/loi/tmps20


Orbigny AD. 1840. Paléontologie Française. Tome I, Terrains crétacés, Céphalopodes. Publ. Arthus Bertrand, Paris.

Owen R. 1853. A monograph of the fossil chelonian reptiles of the Wealden Clays and Purbeck Limestones. Monographs of the Palaeontographical Society7, 1-12.

Panciroli E, Jackson PNW and Crowther PR. 2021. Scientists, collectors and illustrators: the roles of women in the Palaeontographical Society. Geological Society, London, Special Publications, 506, 97-116.

Wood SV. 1848. The Crag Mollusca: With Descriptions of Shells from the Upper Tertiaries of The British Isles. Monographs of the Palaeontographical Society, 1, 1–208.

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