Alexandre Brongniart

History of Geology Team Project

Collin Kile, Ryan Jack, and Dane Riley

GO 521
Emporia State University
May 2017

Alexandre Brongniart was born in Paris, France on February 5th, 1770. He was born to Alexandre-Theodore Brongniart, a famous architect of the time period, and Anne-Louise Degremont. He attended Ecole des Mines as well as Ecole de Medicine. He was also an assistant to his uncle, Antoine-Louis Brongniart, who was a chemistry professor at Jardin des Plantes. Brongniart is remembered for his work in scientific fields which included zoology, mineralogy, stratigraphy, and chemistry. He spent much of his life in Paris teaching and researching, but also made occasional trips accross western Europe to expand and publish his research in geology. Brongniart passed away in Paris on October 7th, 1847.

As a young boy, Brongniart developed a passion for ceramics. In 1800, a year after the end of the French Revolution, Brongniart visited England to expand his knowledge of the ceramic industry. Upon his return to Paris, he was immediately appointed director of the Sevres porcelain factory in Paris. He held this position until his death. His last major work, titled "Traite des arts ceramiques", was published in 1844 and involved the technological advancement of the ceramic industry.

Brongniart held many positions as an engineer, teacher, and administrator. In 1794, he became ingenieur des mines. Years later in 1818, he was promoted to ingenieur en chef des mines, or chief engineer. He also held the position of professor of natural history at Ecole Centrale des Quatre-Nations and later became professor of mineralogy at the Museum d'Histoire Naturelle. In 1815, he became a member of the Academie des Sciences.

His interest in zoology and mineralogy led him to devolop relationships with contemporary scientists, one in particular being Georges Cuvier. An extremely influential naturalist and paleontologist of the era, Cuvier has been called by some the "father of Paleontology". He had a strong influence on the early literary works of Brongniart. In 1804, Brongniart and Cuvier began working together by studying the strata in the Paris Basin as well as the fossils within the strata. Using the positions of the strata and the fossils contained within them, they set out to determine exactly the ages of the fossils and strata. The findings of their research were culminated in their literary work, titled "Essai sur la geographie mineralogique des environs de Paris". This work was published in 1808 and was followed by a more detailed version as well as a geological map of the region in 1811.

From the results of the collective work of Brongniart and Cuvier, Brongniart concluded that the strata deposited in the region alternated between being deposited by saltwater and freshwater. This opposed the popular belief of the time that all strata accumulated as a result of a shrinking ocean. This conclusion led Brongniart to develop a seperate, but related literary work titled "Sur les terrains qui paraissent avoir ete formes sous l'eau douce", which argued his findings of alternate freshwater-saltwater depositions.

Brongniart's work in the Paris Basin would eventually expand to the mapping of stratigraphy across most of western Europe. Brongniart is considered to have laid a strong foundation for geological work following his findings for roughly the next half century. Thanks to Brongniart, the era following him was considered to be quite productive in terms of the advancement of geology.