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Bundling Local Knowledge: Reginald Daly’s Geological Survey through the Mountains of the Southernmost Canadian Cordillera

Fri, March 16, 10:30am to 12:00pm, Riverside Convention Center, MR 10


From 1901 to 1906, the Canadian-raised and United States-trained geologist Reginald Daly surveyed the rocks just north of the Forty-Ninth Parallel with the International Boundary Commission. Daly’s scientific survey was on a grand scale, and he was empowered to order the geological world he observed by an expansive state hungry for industrial resources. But his fieldwork was also quite individual—and for all its speed and breadth, it took place on a necessarily local scale, as Daly applied his techniques over and over again, working east through the mountains from the Strait of Georgia to the Rocky Mountain foothills, mapping thousands of square kilometres of geology.

This paper is concerned with the local dimensions of scientific knowledge, which are well represented by the connection of Daly’s scientific findings to the specific places of his work. Though geologists have long theorized on grand scales, and though Daly was noted for his willingness to hypothesize and to imagine, his fieldwork was not intended to produce the sort of universal, placeless knowledge expected from laboratory science. Moving through the land, trying to make sense of vast structures whose form he had to infer from their remains, Daly the geologist was crucially connected to the particular places in which he worked in ways that are quite familiar to environmental historians. The deep time of each place was incompletely represented by presences and absences in its rock record, and Daly sought to observe and interpret these with his accumulating geological knowledge. At a larger scale, too, there was deep political and industrial interest in what economic resources Daly found, and where. I use published reports and archival documents produced from Daly’s fieldwork to study these aspects of the local and particular creation of scientific knowledge under the influence of multiple scales of interest and power.