The Papers of Maurice Black

Scope and Content

The collection comprises mechanical analysis notes, chalk SEMS, cocolith photographs, early papers, correspondence, lecture notes, field and specimen notebooks including a notebook on the geology of Scarborough, an electron microscope log book 1962-1966 (3 volumes).

Administrative / Biographical History

Maurice Black was born in 1904. He began his undergraduate studies at Cambridge during the 1920s. His first published research appeared in 1929 relating to the Jurassic geology of the Yorkshire coast. He subsequently enrolled as a PhD candidate under the guidance of the Welsh geologist Professor Owen Thomas Jones.

In the early 1930s, Black spent time at Princeton University, New Jersey, USA. He stayed with Edwin C. Moseley in the Bahamas during March 1930. During field expeditions, Black canoed across the tidal lagoon of Andros Islands in the Bahamas. He was the first person to notice that dense growths of cyanobacterial algal mats trapped and overgrew precipitated calcium carbonate forming structures known as stromatolites. In 1934 he was warded his PhD.

On his return to Cambridge, he lectured in stratigraphy. He subsequently became a Fellow of Trinity College. He compiled a large rock collection (primarily sedimentary rocks) which is now housed within the Sedgwick Museum collections. His particular expertise was in a field which was later to become known as Carbonate Sedimentology.

He was a member of the Trinity College Natural Sciences Society. He hosted a talk by the graptolite expert, Oliver M. Bulman in his rooms at Trinity on Thursday Jan 27th 1938. In 1939 he produced a complete revision of Hatch and Rastalls "Petrology of Sedimentary rocks" which was for many years the most widely used student text-book in this field among English-speaking peoples.

Maurice Black later specialized in micro-palaeontological studies relating to coccolithophores and the structure of coccoliths. These small micro-organisms are composed of tiny intricate plates of calcium carbonate. Black demonstrated for the first time that they were a major constituent of Chalk. He pioneered the study of minute fossils through the use of the Electron Microscope.

Black was a mentor and supervisor of John Michael (Jake) Hancock (1928-2004). He undertook collaborative work with C. Downie at the University of Sheffield on micro-paleontology. In May 1956 he exhibited at the Royal Society on "Chalk". He was a visiting lecturer at the University of Toronto during the 1950s and in 1959 returned to Princeton University and gave a series of lectures. He died in 1973.


Original order of the files amalgamated into boxes (boxes 494-504) in the 1990s has been lost. No clear original order of these records, or the others exists.

The collection is still to be arranged and catalogued.

Access Information

The papers are largely open for consultation by researchers using Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences. However, as the papers have not been appraised, there may be some closures, especially correspondence files.

The Geological Conservation Unit [Brighton Building] is open from Monday to Friday, 10:00-13:00 and 14:00-17:00. A prior appointment made at least two weeks in advance, and two forms of identification are required.

Please contact the Museum to ask about the collection or to make an appointment.

Please contact the Archivist, Sandra Marsh to make an appointment or make an enquiry about the collection.

Other Finding Aids

The DDF Archive Inventory spreadsheet is available which contains basic box listing entries for the legacy records of the Sedgwick Museum and Department of Earth Sciences.

Please ask staff for further information.

Archivist's Note

This collection level description was created by Sandra Marsh and Dr Lyall Anderson of Sedgwick Museum in November 2010 using information from the papers themselves and an obituary of Jake Hancock by W.J Kennedy (2004) in the Proceedings of the Geological Association.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies, photographs, and printouts from scanned images may be provided. Charges may apply. Readers may also use their own digital cameras subject to copyright legislation and in-house rules.

Researchers wishing to publish excerpts from the papers must obtain prior permission from the copyright holders and should seek advice from Sedgwick Museum Staff.

Please cite as Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences, The Papers of Maurice Black, BLCK

Appraisal Information

The collection is still to be appraised.

Custodial History

19 boxes were identified as being records created or retained by Maurice Black. These were repackaged into conservation grade boxes during the DDF project (2010-2011)

Those records that were already in some conservation boxes had been amalgamated during the 1980s/1990s [boxes 494-504].

As no documentation could be recovered in legacy Museum correspondence files to ascertain the provenance or acquisition details, it is not clear when these records were originally physically transferred to the Museum.

The records had been transferred from the Sedgwick Museum [Downing Street, Cambridge] to the Geological Conservation Unit [Madingley Road] between 1991-2009.


No more records are currently expected.