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Episodes 2004; 27(1): 13-20

Published online March 1, 2004

Copyright © International Union of Geological Sciences.

The Second International Geological Congress, Bologna, 1881

Gian Battista Vai

Dip. STGA, Via Zamboni 67, I-40127 Bologna, Italy

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0) which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


The world geological community owes the 2nd International Geological Congress (IGC) Bologna 1881 (i) the establishment of a common disciplinary language; (ii) agreement on the basic chronostratigraphical and chronological classification and nomenclature; (iii) agreement on the basic principles for naming the fossil organisms following the binomial nomenclature and the priority rule starting with Linnaeus’ Systema Naturae (1776 edition); (iv) the establishment of permanent international bodies like the International Commission on Nomenclature, which evolved into the present International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS), and the Committee for the Geological Map of Europe, evolved to the present Commission for the Geological Map of the World (CGMW); (v) the introduction of a Geological Exhibition (the present Geoexpo) intimately related to the IGC; (vi) the first organization of post-Congress field trips related to the Congress activity; (vii) the free distribution of publications and maps specially prepared for the Congress members. Italy owes the Bologna IGC the foundation of the Società Geologica Italiana which obtained on site immediate international subscription. Bologna owes its IGC to the opening of the large Geological Museum (later named after Giovanni Capellini, Chairman of the 2nd IGC) and the archaeological Museo Civico. Such an impressive series of results was possible through the “spirit of co-operation” seeded at the 1st Paris IGC, the timely and enthusiastic organizational efforts of Capellini, his extensive network of foreign correspondents, and his smooth chairmanship of the sessions, ably assisted by Quintino Sella, Thomas Sterry Hunt, Eugène Renevier, François Fontannes, Auguste Daubrée and James Hall. Paradoxically, the success and future prosperity of the IGCs, both before and after the establishment of the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS), were enhanced by the limited goals, mostly focused on the establishment of formal conventions. It is argued that the IGC must maintain its identity as long as the advancement of geological sciences will require an international forum to look for agreement on the establishment and updating of general procedures and terminology. The IGC also provides visibility to IUGS if the two institutions are more closely integrated while maintaining their autonomy and independence.