Welcome to the National Mall, a National Park in Washington, D.C. where large stone monuments and memorials honor important historical people and events. The National Mall is a good place to visit if you want to learn about American history and be a historian. And because of all the different stones used in the construction of the memorials, it is also a good place to visit if you want to learn about rocks and be a geologist.
Historians and Geologists actually have many similarities. They both look at past events to better understand the present, and guess what will happen in the future. They both use tools to help them in their research. They both make timelines to keep track of events. The biggest difference is that Historians study the events of humans while Geologists study the events of the earth. The history of humans spans about 100,000 years, while the history of the earth goes back as far as 4.6 billion years.
Sometimes it is difficult to imagine how events that took place millions of years ago can still impact our lives today. Yet geology influences history all the time. What happens if we look at Washington, D.C.’s geology and history together? We can call it GEO* STORY (because that sure sounds a lot better than Histology) and find out how the rocks help to support and tell the story of our country.
Millions of years of geologic events came together to produce a suitable place for Washington, D.C. to be developed. Geology shapes the earth’s different rock types into mountains, valleys, plains, oceans, and everything in-between. The shape of the land and its relationship to water influences weather, which in turn influences the kinds of plants and animals that can survive. Also, certain types of rock are sturdy to build on while others are not. So, geology creates the natural foundation that supports or prohibits human settlement. Settlement and development impact the history of an area as new people and ideas interact and natural habitats and landscapes change. Once we understand the impact of geology on an area, we can see how the scenery, development, and history all come together.
In downtown Washington, D.C. we have not only the geology under our feet to explore, but also the geology of the memorials made from rocks from around the country brought to the capital city. These stone memorials help to tell the stories of America’s past. But have you ever wondered about the stories of the stones themselves? Rock types for each memorial were chosen for their unique color, texture, and strength – as well as the moods and stories they create. The stone not only provides the building blocks of each structure, but strengthens the themes and ideas of the monuments and memorials as well. If you look only at the art and architecture of each site, you miss the great variety of rock “outcrops” in the middle of Washington, D.C. But if you look only at the rock, you miss the great stories and meanings of the memorials. Why not look at both at the same time? Go ahead, be both a historian and a geologist as we discover the GEO*STORY of the National Mall.
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