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Science Serialized: Representations of the Sciences in Nineteenth-century Periodicals.

Science Serialized: Representations of the Sciences in Nineteenth-century Periodicals

Geoffrey Cantor and Sally Shuttle-worth, eds. 2004. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. [ISBN 0-262-03318-6. 358 pages, including index. $40.00 USD.]


In 1858, Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace jointly submitted a paper on evolution by natural selection to the Linnean Society of London. The next year, Darwin published On the origin of species. For the rest of the century, evolution was the leading subject of scientific discussion. However, evolution was already being discussed at the beginning of the century, thanks to earlier evolutionary thinkers (for example, JeanBaptiste Lamarck and Charles' grandfather Erasmus Darwin) and the growing awareness that the earth is billions of years old.

Science serialized is a publication of the Dibner Institute for the History of Science and Technology on the MIT campus. The 14 chapters by different authors proceed chronologically through the 1800s. They examine monthly and quarterly journal articles and book reviews to discern how science was presented. The undertone of this progression is natural selection and the debate surrounding it.

Articles and reviews of the 1800s did not just report; they also shaped perspectives. For example, the second chapter looks at articles on flowers from 1800 to 1830. Men's magazines talked science without apology. Women's magazines apologized for Latin terms, tried to avoid them, and tried to avoid naming the sexual parts of flowers.

The third chapter covers religious journals and how they viewed science in the mid-1830s. At that time, religion was not in opposition to science. Rather, it was thought that science could shed more light on the divine in our world.

Contrary to my assumption, the study of psychology did not start with Freud, who first published around 1900. The fifth chapter covers psychology from 1855 to 1875, when it was growing apart from philosophy. One huge discussion was whether the new discoveries of physiology (how the brain works) and psychology (notions of free will) were moving humans from divine (made in the image of God) to animal. However, most writers concluded vaguely, allowing readers to maintain a connection between the self and the divine.

The seventh chapter, about the North American review (NAR) during the years 1865 to 1880, is the only chapter with a focus outside Britain. The chapter discusses NAR under the editorship of Henry Brooks Adams, grandson of John Quincy Adams. Adams's editorial purpose was to give room to independent, rational, and independent inquiry. One way he did this was to publish articles that defended Darwinism.

The ninth chapter discusses reports of John Tyndall's 1874 Belfast Address. Tyndall, President of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1874, gave the presidential address at the annual meeting in Belfast that year. Tyndall took the aggressive position that science and theology are separate realms. This speech marked the watershed in the debate about whether science or religion would rule English culture. The church refused to abdicate its place in the interpretation of science, including the new sciences of psychology and evolution. The debate also pitted scientists against scientists.

Most of the last third of Science serialized focuses on personalities who presented or debated natural selection (Charles Darwin, John Tyndall, W. K. Clifford, Grant Allen, John Ruskin, and Samuel Butler), with mention of the journals that carried the debate.

I recommend this book to those who are interested in a light historical perspective on the debate over evolution during the 1800s and are curious about the names and types of journals of the century.

DAVID FOREL is an STC student member and a PhD candidate in geological engineering at Michigan Technological University. During the 10 years prior to his return to school, he was a technical writer and trainer in the oil and gas industry.
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Author:Forel, David
Publication:Technical Communication
Date:Aug 1, 2005
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