Books  General Natural History  History of Science 

Show Me the Bone: Reconstructing Prehistoric Monsters in Nineteenth-Century Britain and America

By: Gowan Dawson(Author)

476 pages, 42 b/w illustrations

University of Chicago Press

Hardback | May 2016 | #229542 | ISBN-13: 9780226332734
Availability: Usually dispatched within 4 days Details
NHBS Price: £34.99 $46/€39 approx

About this book

Nineteenth-century paleontologists boasted that, shown a single bone, they could identify or even reconstruct the extinct creature it came from with infallible certainty – "Show me the bone, and I will describe the animal!" Paleontologists such as Georges Cuvier and Richard Owen were heralded as scientific virtuosos, sometimes even veritable wizards, capable of resurrecting the denizens of an ancient past from a mere glance at a fragmentary bone. Such extraordinary feats of predictive reasoning relied on the law of correlation, which proposed that each element of an animal corresponds mutually with each of the others, so that a carnivorous tooth must be accompanied by a certain kind of jawbone, neck, stomach, limbs, and feet.

Show Me the Bone tells the story of the rise and fall of this famous claim, tracing its fortunes from Europe to America and showing how it persisted in popular science and literature and shaped the practices of paleontologists long after the method on which it was based had been refuted. In so doing, Gowan Dawson reveals how decisively the practices of the scientific elite were – and still are – shaped by their interactions with the general public.

"Dawson lucidly traces the afterlife of Cuvier's incorrect "law of correlation" in Victorian Britain and the United States. The idea seeped into science, irking biologist T. H. Huxley and, argues Dawson, subtly influencing Charles Darwin's thinking on natural variation."

"You will be amply rewarded by Dawson's meticulous evocation of a colourful cast of characters and their equally colourful times."
New Scientist

"Dawson's absorbing Show Me the Bone brilliantly traces the changing fortunes of Cuvier's law of correlation in nineteenth century British paleontology from its arrival and triumph to its overthrow and lingering afterlife. Dawson explores how this law became a fundamental axiom of science, like the nebular hypothesis in astronomy or the theory of evolution in biology, often with surprising results. Show Me the Bone helps us to understand the circulation and appropriation of knowledge during this period, as well as the complexities of British print culture and the popularization of science, making it essential reading."
– Bernard Lightman, York University

"Show Me the Bone is a bold, original, and convincing work. Taking Baron Cuvier's famous and celebrated law of 'necessary correlation', Dawson argues that 'undead science' continues to circulate long beyond the point at which it seems to have been rejected by most practitioners of science – often in print, popular, and literary cultures – and, crucially, that in doing so it has the power to continue to shape and transform elite science. With brilliant detective work and magisterial storytelling, Dawson constructs a twists-and-turns tale full of surprises about the many directions Cuvierian science took across the course of the nineteenth century and beyond. Show Me the Bone is an exciting new work in the history of science, and a game-changing study in literary criticism and the histories of popular and print culture. It is a joy to read, and a testament to the kinds of thrilling stories made possible by rigorous, scholarly research."
– Adelene Buckland, King's College London

"With Show Me the Bone, Dawson has written an interesting – at times brilliant! – book that presents a truly impressive wealth of research, makes a cogent argument, and features refreshingly straight-forward, lucid prose throughout. Show Me the Bone follows Cuvier's famous principle of correlation as it traveled from continental Europe to the British Isles. Along the way, Dawson pays particular attention to how naturalists discussed and disseminated their ideas not just in scholarly meetings and specialist publications, but also popular lectures and the commercial press. Show Me the Bone will be sure to find an audience not only among historians of the earth sciences, but also among anyone interested in the nexus of science and literature or the history of science popularization."
– Lukas Rieppel, Brown University


Introduction: Cuvier’s Law of Correlation

Part I Arrival, 1795–1839: Translations and Appropriations
1 Correlation Crosses the Channel
2 Fragments of Design

Part II Triumph, 1839–54: Bones, Serials, and Models
3 Discovering the Dinornis
4 Paleontology in Parts
5 Correlation at the Crystal Palace

Part III Overthrow, 1854–62: Scientific Naturalists, Popularizers, and Cannibals
6 Correlation under Siege
7 The Problems of Popularization
8 Unfortunate Allies

Part IV Afterlife, 1862–1917: Missing Links and Hidden Clues
9 Evolutionary Modifications
10 Prophecies of the Past

Epilogue: Ghosts of Correlation


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Gowan Dawson is professor of Victorian literature and culture at the University of Leicester. He is coeditor of Victorian Scientific Naturalism and is the author of Darwin, Literature and Victorian Respectability.

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