This book examines the work of prominent South African geologist Alex Du Toit as a means of understanding the debate around continental drift both in segregation-era South Africa and internationally. It contextualises Du Toit's work within a particularly formative period of South African science, from the paleoanthropological discoveries that sparked debates about the origins of humankind to Jan Smuts' own theory of holism. Beyond South African scientific discoveries, the book sets Du Toit's work against a backdrop of ideological struggles over space, both domestically in terms of segregation and nationalism, as well as internationally as South Africa sought to assert its position within the Commonwealth. These debates were embodied by Du Toit's work on the theory of continental drift, which put Africa – and South Africa – at the centre geologically and geographically.
The author also focuses on the divisions in geology caused by drift theory, tracing the vigorous intellectual debate and dissent indicative of the ideological milieu within which scientific thought is constructed. It traces the history of continental drift from its inception in the nineteenth century and later work of Alfred Wegener, which was both elaborated upon and substantiated by Du Toit. The study further focuses on Du Toit's research on continental drift in South African and South America, and the geological, fossil and climatological evidence used to bolster this theory.
Suryakanthie Chetty is Senior Lecturer in History at Stellenbosch University, South Africa. Her current research interests are in the history of science, specifically geology. She has published in Historia, the African Historical Review, Kronos: South African Histories, the Journal of Natal and Zulu History and the South African Historical Journal.
"Everyone – scientists and the general public alike – with an interest in both the deep and recent past and of knowledge generated in and about South Africa will welcome the appearance of this book. In fluent and readable style, it deals with the life and work of eminent geologist Alex du Toit [...] . this book brings to light, for the first time within a single publication, an explanation of the evolution of the ideas around continental drift [...] ."
– Jane Carruthers, Transactions of the Royal Society of South Africa, September 8, 2021