Georges Cuvier

Discourse on the Revolutionary Upheavals on the Surface of the Earth

Historical Note

Georges Cuvier's important study Recherches sur les ossemens fossiles des quadrupèdes [Research on the Fossil Bones of Quadrupeds] was first published in France in 1812. The Discours sur les révolutions du globe [Discourse on the Revolutionary Upheavals on the Surface of the Earth] was the introduction to the larger work.

The translation is based upon the Third French Edition (Paris and Amsterdam, 1825). As Cuvier's Preface makes clear, the introduction to the earlier work had been translated into English (in 1813) and German (in 1822), and had added considerably to Cuvier's international reputation as one of France's most important scientists. Editions of Cuvier in English and French were sufficiently popular to go through many editions. The first English edition (translated by Robert Kerr with notes by Professor Jameson) has recently been reiussed.

The central argument in the Third Edition is the same as in the first, and the two texts are at times very similar indeed. However, the Third Edition is longer and contains a much more extensive discussion of ancient cultures.

Translator's Note

In Cuvier's text there are footnotes of two sorts: brief citations of particular texts and supplementary discussions. Some of the latter are very long. This translation includes all of the footnote references, but provides direct links only to some of those which discuss further a point Cuvier is dealing with (such links are underlined and appear in blue). Most of these are of considerable interest and importance.

For the convenience of the reader who requires some assistance with the technical language of geology, biology, palaeontology, and astronomy, I have at times inserted brief definitions or additional comments of my own in the text; these are indicated in square brackets. I have also occasionally added links to an editorial footnote to assist the reader with some points of Cuvier's argument. These are indicated as Translator's Footnote.

This translation presents Cuvier's essay under different headings for major sections, indicated in square brackets. His original text contains no divisions, other than marginal annotations of the main subject matter. The latter have been retained as headings within the major sections.

Those interested in reading more of Cuvier's work in English should consult the excellent new book by Martin J. S. Rudwick, Georges Cuvier, Fossil Bones, and Geological Catastrophes (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997).

At the bottom of this page are links to two reviews of the first English edition of Cuvier's essay.

Copyright Information

This translation is in the public domain (released May 1998) and may be used, in whole or in part, without permission, provided the user makes no financial profit from the sale of copies of this text and acknowledges fully the source. I would appreciate hearing from anyone who finds the translation useful or interesting or both. And I would welcome any assistance in making the translation more accurate.

Ian Johnston
Liberal Studies Department
Malaspina University College
Nanaimo, British Columbia
May 1998

Click here for English Text or here for French Text

Reviews of the first English translation of Cuvier's essay in The British Review and London Critical Journal, 1813 and in The Edinburgh Review, 1813-1814