In the nineteenth century, the British Government spent money measuring the distance between the earth and the sun using observations of the transit of Venus. This book presents a narrative of the two Victorian transit programmes. It draws out their cultural significance and explores the nature of “big science” in late-Victorian Britain.
The nineteenth century was an important period for both the proliferation of “popular” science and for the demarcation of a group of professionals that we now term scientists. Of course for Ireland, largely in contrast to the rest of Britain, the prominence of Catholicism posed various philosophical questions regarding research.
Adelman’s study examines the practical educational impact of the growth of science in these communities, and the impact of this on the country’s economy; the role of museums and exhibitions in spreading scientific knowledge; and the role that science had to play in Ireland’s turbulent political context.
Adelman challenges historians to reassess the relationship between science and society, showing that the unique situation in Victorian Ireland can nonetheless have important implications for wider European interpretations of the development of this relationship during a period of significant change.
After the Public Heath Acts of 1872 and 1875, British local authorities bore statutory obligations to carry out sanitary improvements. Richardson explores public health strategy and central-local government relations during the mid-nineteenth-century, using the experience of Uppingham, England, as a micro-historical case study. Uppingham is a small (and unusually well-documented) market town which contains a boarding school. Despite legal changes enforcing sanitary reform, the town was hit three times by typhoid in 1875-1876.
The concept of eccentricity was central to how people in the nineteenth century understood their world. This monograph is the first scholarly history of eccentricity. Carroll explores how discourses of eccentricity were established to make sense of individuals who did not seem to fit within an increasingly organized social and economic order. She focuses on the self-taught natural philosopher William Martin, the fossilist Thomas Hawkins and the taxidermist Charles Waterton.
The nineteenth century saw science move from being the preserve of a small learned elite to a dominant force which influenced society as a whole. Sakurai presents a study of how scientific societies affected the social and political life of a city. As it did not have a university or a centralized government, Frankfurt am Main is an ideal case study of how scientific associations—funded by private patronage for the good of the local populace—became an important centre for natural history.
Elwick explores how the concept of “compound individuality” brought together life scientists working in pre-Darwinian London. Scientists conducting research in comparative anatomy, physiology, cellular microscopy, embryology and the neurosciences repeatedly stated that plants and animals were compounds of smaller independent units. Discussion of a “bodily economy” was widespread. But by 1860, the most flamboyant discussions of compound individuality had come to an end in Britain. Elwick relates the growth and decline of questions about compound individuality to wider nineteenth-century debates about research standards and causality. He uses specific technical case studies to address overarching themes of reason and scientific method.
Indian scientific achievements in the early twentieth century are well known, with a number of heralded individuals making globally recognized strides in the field of astrophysics. Covering the period from the foundation of the Asiatick Society in 1784 to the establishment of the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science in 1876, Sen explores the relationship between Indian astronomers and the colonial British. He shows that from the mid-nineteenth century, Indians were not passive receivers of European knowledge, but active participants in modern scientific observational astronomy.
Higgitt examines Isaac Newton’s changing legacy during the nineteenth century. She focuses on 1820-1870, a period that saw the creation of the specialized and secularized role of the “scientist.” At the same time, researchers gained better access to Newton’s archives. These were used both by those who wished to undermine the traditional, idealised depiction of scientific genius and those who felt obliged to defend Newtonian hagiography. Higgitt shows how debates about Newton’s character stimulated historical scholarship and led to the development of a new expertise in the history of science.
Victorian anthropology has been derided as an “armchair practice,” distinct from the scientific discipline of the twentieth century. But the observational practices that characterized the study of human diversity developed from the established sciences of natural history, geography and medicine. Sera-Shriar argues that anthropology at this time went through a process of innovation which built on scientifically grounded observational study. Far from being an evolutionary dead end, nineteenth-century anthropology laid the foundations for the field-based science of anthropology today.
By the late nineteenth century, advances in medical knowledge, technology and pharmaceuticals led to the development of a thriving commercial industry. The medical trade catalogue became one of the most important means of promoting the latest tools and techniques to practitioners. Drawing on over 400 catalogues produced between 1870 and 1914, Jones presents a study of the changing nature of medical professionalism. She examines the use of the catalogue in connecting the previously separate worlds of medicine and commerce and discusses its importance to the study of print history more widely.
From the mid-nineteenth century onwards a number of previously unknown conditions were recorded in both animals and humans. Known by a variety of names, and found in diverse locations, by the end of the century these diseases were united under the banner of “anthrax.” Stark offers a fresh perspective on the history of infectious disease. He examines anthrax in terms of local, national and global significance, and constructs a narrative that spans public, professional and geographic domains.
Victorian culture was characterized by a proliferation of shows and exhibitions. These were encouraged by the development of new sciences and technologies, together with changes in transportation, education and leisure patterns. The essays in this collection look at exhibitions and their influence in terms of location, technology and ideology.
Physicist John Tyndall and his contemporaries were at the forefront of developing the cosmology of scientific naturalism during the Victorian period. They rejected all but physical laws as having any impact on the operations of human life and the universe. Contributors focus on the way Tyndall and his correspondents developed their ideas through letters, periodicals and scientific journals and challenge previously held assumptions about who gained authority, and how they attained and defended their position within the scientific community.
Britain in the long nineteenth century developed an increasing interest in science of all kinds. Whilst poets and novelists took inspiration from technical and scientific innovations, those directly engaged in these new disciplines relied on literary techniques to communicate their discoveries to a wider audience. The essays in this collection uncover this symbiotic relationship between literature and science, at the same time bridging the disciplinary gulf between the history of science and literary studies. Specific case studies include the engineering language used by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the role of physiology in the development of the sensation novel and how mass communication made people lonely.
Victorian England, as is well known, produced an enormous amount of scientific endeavour, but what has previously been overlooked is the important role of geography on these developments.
Naylor seeks to rectify this imbalance by presenting a historical geography of regional science. Taking an in-depth look at the county of Cornwall, questions on how science affected provincial Victorian society, how it changed people’s relationship with the landscape and how it shaped society are applied to the Cornish case study, allowing a depth and texture of analysis denied to more general scientific overviews of the period.