Joshua Hillman


I joined the School of Philosophy, Religion and the History of Science in 2020, after previously studying at the universities of Warwick and Cambridge.  

My PhD thesis is provisionally entitled ‘From Mines to Strata: The Emergence of a New Science of the Earth in Britain, 1660–1815’. In it, I provide a new account of the development of natural knowledge about the strata of the British Isles in the long eighteenth century.

Existing master narratives in the historiography of the earth sciences have focused on the discovery of Earth’s deep history around 1800 and have tended, accordingly, to interpret the first three quarters of the eighteenth century as a latency period in the development of the earth sciences. By reorienting towards geological space instead of geological time, my thesis reconstructs the practice of four neglected ‘projects’ in the long eighteenth century: coallery, the natural history of mines, the natural history of the Earth, and the natural history of strata. I argue that these projects led to important developments in the understanding of geological space, and that naturalists often appropriated the expertise of mineworkers in pursuing them. In the seventeenth century, coal surveyors already possessed expertise on coal-bearing strata (coallery), but this was little tapped by naturalists more interested in metal mines (the natural history of mines). Strata became more seriously studied around 1700, when John Woodward developed a new approach that showed that they could be traced over vast horizontal distances (the natural history of the Earth). As a result, many naturalists traced strata in the eighteenth century, and those that visited coal mines recognised that strata had a regular vertical order. This finding was applied more broadly over the century as naturalists recorded both the horizontal continuity and vertical order of the strata in different locations (the natural history of strata). 


Whereas previous accounts have focused on the career of William Smith and his 1815 ‘map that changed the world’, I situate Smith in the longer history of British naturalists’ attempts to appropriate the knowledge of mineworkers over the course of the long eighteenth century. In so doing, I argue that the nineteenth-century science of stratigraphy (as it developed in Britain) was preceded by two long overlooked projects that can be characterised as ‘the natural history of mines’ and ‘the natural history of strata’, respectively. 

My PhD is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council through a White Rose College of the Arts and Humanities (WRoCAH) Scholarship.  

Research Funding and Scholarships

  • Lisa Jardine Grant, The Royal Society of London (2022)
  • WRoCAH Scholarship, The Arts and Humanities Research Council (2020–2024)
  • Isaac Newton Trust and Emmanuel College Scholarship, University of Cambridge (2019–2020)
  • MA Bursary, British Society for the History of Science (2019–2020) 

Conference Presentations

  • ‘John Woodward and the appropriation of vernacular mining terminology’, Society for the History of Natural History Conference, Thinktank, Millennium Point, Birmingham, 13 June 2023
  • ‘Jean-François-Clément Morand’s L’Art d’exploiter les mines des charbon de terre and the relationship between miners and savants in the eighteenth century’, Early Encounters with Coal Conference, University of Cambridge, 13 December 2022
  • ‘Mining in the Making of the Earth Sciences in Stuart Britain’, Examining the Early Modern Conference, University of Leeds, 16 September 2022
  • ‘Warington Smyth, The Royal School of Mines, and the teaching of mining in Victorian London, 1851–1890’, British Society for the History of Science annual conference, Queen’s University Belfast, 23 July 2022
  • ‘Miners, Natural Historians, and Testimonial Knowledge in the Royal Society, 1660–1700’, UK Integrated HPS Conference, University of Leeds, 28 June 2022
  • ‘Miners, Savants, and the Classification of Coal in the Eighteenth Century’, Bias in the Fossil Record Workshop, University of Leeds, 5 August 2021
  • ‘Artisanal Insight and the Knowledge Economy of Coal in the Long Eighteenth Century’, Natural Resources in Early Modern Economies of Knowledge, Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, 29 April 2021


  • History of the Body, School of PRHS, University of Leeds (Level 3), 2023–2024
  • Magic, Science and Religion, School of PRHS, University of Leeds (Level 1), 2023–2024, 2021–2022
  • Science Communication: History and Theory, School of PRHS, University of Leeds (Level 3), 2022–2023
  • How Science Works,  School of PRHS, University of Leeds (Level 1), 2022–2023
  • History of Psychology,  School of PRHS, University of Leeds (Level 1), 2022–2023
  • Introduction to the History of Science, School of PRHS, University of Leeds (Level 1), 2022–2023, 2021–2022

Academic service

  • Organiser, History of the Earth Sciences Reading Group, University of Leeds, 2021– 
  • Co-organiser, Historiographical Issues in HSTM Reading Group, University of Leeds, 2021–2022 
  • Intern, Centre for History of Science, School of PRHS, University of Leeds, 2021–2022.

Research interests

History of the earth sciences, all periods

History of mining, all periods

Environmental history, all periods

History of the other sciences, 1600–1850

Historiography of science, especially the so-called ‘Scientific Revolution’.


  • BA (Hons) History, University of Warwick
  • MPhil., History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge