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History and philosophy of soil science



Soil science is a relatively young science in which staggering developments have occurred. It has borrowed tools and techniques from the fundamental sciences (chemistry, physics, mathematics) and the applied sciences (e.g. geostatistics, ecology) and these have been applied to agricultural and environmental problems. Soil science has become a true science in its own right, with its own set of tools and techniques. A main development has been that many of the descriptive practices were replaced by systematic observations coupled with inductive reasoning and deductive experimentation. Most subdisciplines of soil science have matured, except for the subdiscipline history of soil science, which has been a rather neglected subject.

The first book solely dedicated to the history of soil science was authored by I.A. Krupenikov and appeared in 1971. It was written in Russian but an English translation (‘History of Soil Science – From its Inception to the Present’) was made available in 1993. In 1989, Boulaine published a book in French on the history of pedology and soil science and in 1997 ‘History of Soil Science – International Perspectives’ appeared - click for review here. Historic developments of various fields of soil science have also been reviewed in some journal articles and textbooks e.g. the first chapter in ‘Russell’s Soil Conditions and Plant Growth’. Overall, historical information about developments in soil science is scattered and besides being neglected, there is an imbalance in subject treatments. 

This is likely caused by the fact that soil scientists are not per se good historians (and the other way round). We have written a few papers on historical developments in soil science and they are listed below. There is an active Commission of the IUSS that specifically deals with history and philosophy of soil science and information can be found here. No doubt there is much work to be done given the rapid developments that have occurred in soil science.


Bouma, J. & A.E. Hartemink 2002  Soil science and society in the Dutch context. Netherlands Journal of Agricultural Science 50: 133-140. PDF


Hartemink, A.E. 2002  Soil science in tropical and temperate regions – Some differences and similarities. Advances in Agronomy 77: 269-292. PDF

Hartemink, A.E. 2002  Publishing in soil science – Historical developments and current trends. 196 pp. IUSS, Vienna. [with a Foreword by Prof. W.H. Blum]. More info here

Hartemink, A.E. 2001  Publishing science – Past, present and the future. Guest editorial in: Outlook on Agriculture 30: 231-237. PDF

Hartemink, A.E., A.B. McBratney & J.A. Cattle 2001  Developments and trends in soil science: 100 volumes of Geoderma (1967-2001). Geoderma 100: 217-268. PDF
more info here

van Baren, J.H.V., A.E. Hartemink & P.B. Tinker 2000  75 years The International Society of Soil Science. Geoderma 96: 1-18. PDF