Organic petrology developed as coal petrology at the beginning of the 20th century dedicated mainly to the study of coals because of their utilization in industry. Coal petrology was then considered a branch of coal science. Later, with the development of specialized nomenclature, classification of coal components, and the standardization and improvement of analytical (microscopical) methods, this discipline expanded in interests and name, becoming organic petrology. Organic petrology carries a broader context, being as well a tool applied in the study of dispersed organic matter in sedimentary rocks due to its importance in exploration for fossil fuel resources. At present, organic petrology is a discipline widely recognized for its role in fundamental and applied research with respect to both coal utilization and in geosciences. Throughout the 20th century several important monographs have been published on the discipline of organic petrology, including “Stach's textbook of coal petrology” (1st edition 1935, 2nd 1975, 3rd 1982), updated as the more general “Organic petrology” by Taylor et al. (1998). More recently, the text “Applied coal petrology: the role of petrology in coal utilization” was published by Suárez-Ruiz and Crelling (2008). This review is the first in a two-part review series that describes and updates the role of organic petrology in geosciences. A second part complementing this one and focused on the applications of organic petrology to other scientific fields will follow.