Diarmid Finnegan’s eloquent book traces the itineraries of British men of science on the American lecture circuit in the second half of the nineteenth century. Drawing on deep archival research, he allows us to witness the performances of such luminaries as Tyndall, Huxley, and Wallace, who gave a voice to science while inadvertently stirring religious and political controversy.
For many in the nineteenth century, the spoken word had a vivacity and power that exceeded other modes of communication. This conviction helped to sustain a diverse and dynamic lecture culture that provided a crucial vehicle for shaping and contesting cultural norms and beliefs. As science increasingly became part of public culture and debate, its spokespersons recognized the need to harness the presumed power of public speech to recommend the moral relevance of scientific ideas and attitudes. With this wider context in mind, The Voice of Science explores the efforts of five celebrity British scientists—John Tyndall, Thomas Henry Huxley, Richard Proctor, Alfred Russel Wallace, and Henry Drummond—to articulate and embody a moral vision of the scientific life on American lecture platforms. These evangelists for science negotiated the fraught but intimate relationship between platform and newsprint culture and faced the demands of audiences searching for meaningful and memorable lecture performances. As Diarmid Finnegan reveals, all five attracted unrivaled attention, provoking responses in the press, from church pulpits, and on other platforms. Their lectures became potent cultural catalysts, provoking far-reaching debate on the consequences and relevance of scientific thought for reconstructing cultural meaning and moral purpose.
The Voice of Science is a fascinating account of popular science lectures and lecturers in nineteenth-century Britain and America. Finnegan writes with a clarity, liveliness, and poise that the subjects of this book would have appreciated. It is crucial reading for historians, geographers, sociologists, and others interested in the performance, affective power, and cultural meanings of science.
Diarmid A. Finnegan is senior lecturer in human geography at Queen’s University, Belfast. He is the author of Natural History Societies and Civic Culture in Victorian Scotland and coeditor of Spaces of Global Knowledge: Exhibition, Encounter and Exchange in an Age of Empire and The Correspondence of John Tyndall, volume 7. His current research centers on the history of science and religion in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.