Books  General Natural History  History of Science 

Victorian Scientific Naturalism: Community, Identity, Continuity

By: Gowan Dawson (Editor), Bernard Lightman (Editor)

368 pages, 12 b/w photos, 2 b/w illustrations, 1 table

University of Chicago Press

Hardback | May 2014 | #212272 | ISBN-13: 9780226109503
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NHBS Price: £31.50 $39/€35 approx

About this book

Victorian Scientific Naturalism examines the secular creeds of the generation of intellectuals who, in the wake of On the Origin of Species, wrested cultural authority from the old Anglican establishment while installing themselves as a new professional scientific elite. These scientific naturalists – led by biologists, physicists, and mathematicians such as William Kingdon Clifford, Joseph Dalton Hooker, Thomas Henry Huxley, and John Tyndall – sought to persuade both the state and the public that scientists, not theologians, should be granted cultural authority, since their expertise gave them special insight into society, politics, and even ethics.

In Victorian Scientific Naturalism, Gowan Dawson and Bernard Lightman bring together new essays by leading historians of science and literary critics that recall these scientific naturalists, in light of recent scholarship that has tended to sideline them, and that reevaluate their place in the broader landscape of nineteenth-century Britain. Ranging in topic from daring climbing expeditions in the Alps to the maintenance of aristocratic protocols of conduct at Kew Gardens, these essays offer a series of new perspectives on Victorian scientific naturalism – as well as its subsequent incarnations in the early twentieth century – that together provide an innovative understanding of the movement centering on the issues of community, identity, and continuity.

"A sterling set of essays that lifts the lid on T. H. Huxley's propagandist network in the Victorian afternoon. Out goes the old paradigm of a monolithic group of professionalizers; in its place we have a probing study of disparate characters, for whom nature was the new source of cultural authority. The authors enhance our understanding of 'scientific naturalism' as it was pushed into the curriculum, into pulpit-replacing Sunday lectures, and even into the moral bedrock."
- Adrian Desmond, coauthor of Darwin's Sacred Cause

"As a rule, books about -isms are boring: bloodless, spectral accounts of impalpable abstractions. Victorian Scientific Naturalism breaks that rule decisively. It lifts the curtain on a cast of hundreds, with their ideas fleshed out in committees, clubs, and ad hoc coalitions. Positivists and theists, agnostics and idealists, Broad Churchmen and Broad Scientists, dissenters and Dissenters, freethinking ladies among them – genial antagonists and cobelligerents, all united in spurring liberal and secular trends. As in good theater, the characters develop through their relationships as well as their beliefs, actors arrayed in shifting tableaux before a noisy popular chorus. Art, politics, literature, and religion are integral to the unfolding drama, not just backdrop. The authors of Victorian Scientific Naturalism, like their subjects, do not always speak with one voice, but for this reason alone, in their multiple fresh perspectives, we have our best guide yet to the roles of the 'scientific' in Victorian culture."
- James Moore, Open University, Milton Keynes

"If they are to stay useful, historians' categories require constant vetting. In this outstanding volume, 'Victorian scientific naturalism' gets the probing analysis it has long deserved. The results – sometimes surprising and always engaging – will be obligatory reading for anyone interested in Victorian science, Victorian religion, and their complex interactions and legacies."
- Gregory Radick, University of Leeds

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Gowan Dawson is a senior lecturer in Victorian studies at the University of Leicester, UK, and the author of Darwin, Literature, and Victorian Respectability. He lives in Leicester. Bernard Lightman is professor of humanities at York University in Toronto and the author or editor of numerous books, including Victorian Popularizers of Science, also published by the University of Chicago Press. He lives in Thornhill, Ontario.

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