In 1817, the Hindoo College was founded with the express intention of providing modern education to the Indian students. The teaching of science was, however, ignored at the initial phase. In 1823, Raja Rammohan Roy addressed a letter to Lord Amherst for imparting instructions in “mathematics, natural philosophy, chemistry, anatomy and other useful sciences”. In response to that Mr. H.F. Blanford informally began teaching the basic elements of Physics, Chemistry, Geology, Meteorology and Physical geography in Presidency College as ‘Professor of Natural Science’. In 1851, the establishment of Geological Survey of India in Calcutta signalled the dawn of geological exploration in this subcontinent. The need for trained Indians was then strongly felt by the colonial rulers. On 23rd September 1891, the Government of Bengal published a notification regarding opening of graduate classes in Geology and Mineralogy in Presidency College. On 17th July 1892, the Department of Geology, the first of its kind in India, was formally inaugurated with Sir Thomas Holland of the Geological Survey of India as the first Professor of Geology. C.S. Middlemiss known for his discovery of the Tal Series in the Himalayas, officiated during Holland’s absence March-June 1895. Other officers of the Geological Survey of India also contributed in teaching in the formative stage of this department. H.H. Hayden (associated with the department during 1897-98 & 1904-06), P. N. Datta (associated with the department during 1898-99) and T. L. Walker (officiated in 1898).
Hemchandra Dasgupta, an alumnus (MA1900) became the first Indian full-time teacher of the department in 1903. He remained as Head of the Department for both of the Presidency College and the Calcutta University (faculty member: 1903-1933) and actively encouraged research in geology. Eminent teachers who taught either as faculty of the Presidency College or Calcutta University during early years to name are Kiran Kumar Sengupta (alumnus 1906), Sarat Lal Biswas (CU 1916-1946), Bhupendranath Maitra (1912-1946), Manmohan Chatterjee (faculty member 1930-58, Head 1933-58), Nirmalnath Chatterjee (faculty member CU: 1926-65, Head 1947-1965), Prafulla Chandra Dutta (faculty member: 1926-1958), Sailendra Mohan Mukherjee (faculty member: 1937-1971), Santosh Kumar Ray (faculty member: 1944-1965: as Head 1958-65), Ajit Kumar Banerji (faculty member: 1951-1978: as Head 1965-78), Ajit Kumar Saha (faculty member: 1951-1985, re-employed till 1990, as Head 1978-85), Mihir Kumar Bose (faculty member:1956-93), Pradip kumar Gangopadhyay (faculty member: 1962-95 as Head 1985-95), Timir Ranjan Sarbadhikari (faculty member: 1957-1977), Dhrubajyoti Mukhopadhyay (faculty member: 1964-1981).
The teaching covered both B.Sc. and M.Sc. levels. The department remained a small one with only four full-time teachers until the middle of the twentieth century when its expansion started. Even in those early days the department established its tradition of dedicated teaching and the reputation as a pioneering research centre under the stewardship of Late Professor Hem Chandra Dasgupta. The geological museum set up by Professor Dasgupta has been renovated and named after him, ‘Hem Chandra Museum of Geology’, in his honour. Standing on that strong foundation the department has been moving forward along the path of excellence. The alumni of this department not only established their superiority in the academic field of earth science but they are also playing a leading role in the development of the natural resource industry of the country. The flare of academic achievement superseded geographic barriers to adorn the chairs of many leading institutions abroad. As a recognition of its academic excellence the department came under the UGC-COSIST Program in 1985, followed by the UGC Special Assistance Program in 1986 and the Centre for Advanced Study in Precambrian Geology by the University Grants Commission from 2006 for two consecutive terms and DST FIST for two consecutive terms.