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Week 7. Science in the Public Sphere, 1650-1800. The public.

Click here for the handout and slides for this week's lecture

Science became part of public culture in the long eighteenth century. ‘Experimental philosophers’ showed the wonders of electricity in taverns and coffee-shops; plants and minerals filled the cabinets of collectors; periodicals buzzed with the latest discoveries about polyps and planets. For many thinkers, science went hand-in-hand with moral and political progress. These thinkers often slighted the very people who made the new science possible—artisans, women, non-Europeans. But these groups often found a large and sympathetic audience outside the scientific establishment. Science had won over the public, but scientists had not.

Seminar questions:

How did ordinary people get access to science in Europe and North America in c. 1650-1800?

Why was science so popular in this period?

What were the boundaries of public science - who was excluded or denigrated?

Does it make sense to distinguish between 'real science' and 'popular science' in this period?

Seminar readings:

Read the Roy Porter piece and one of the three pairs of readings that follow. Each pair has a secondary source and a related (short) primary source.

Roy Porter, 'Introduction,' Cambridge History of Science, vol. 4: Eighteenth-Century Science.

Option 1

Terrall, Mary. ‘Gendered Spaces, Gendered Audiences: Inside and Outside the Paris Academy of Sciences’. Configurations 3, no. 2 (1 May 1995): 207–32

Fontenelle, Bernard le Bovier de. Trans. William Gardiner. Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds. London, 1715. Read pages 4-12. Available online here.

Option 2

Bertucci, Paola, ‘Sparks in the Dark: The Attraction of Electricity in the Eighteenth Century’, Endeavour, 31 (2007), 88–93

Benjamin Martin, The Young Gentleman and Ladies' Philosophy, in a Continued Survey of the Works of Nature and Art, by Way of a Dialogue. London, 1772 (2nd edn). 'On the Nature, Phaenomena, and Experiments of Electricity', pp. 294-297. Available online here.

Option 3

Secord, James A. 'Newton in the Nursery: Tom Telescope and the Philosophy of Tops and Balls, 1761–1838.'History of Science 23, no. 2 (June 1985): 127–51.

Tom Telescope. The Newtonian System of Philosophy Adapted to the Capacities of Young Gentlemen and Ladies, and Familiarized and Made Entertaining by Objects with which they are Intimately Acquainted. London: 1761. 'Lecture 1: Of Matter and Motion'. Available online here.


Additional reading

General works

Clark, William, Jan Golinski, and Simon Schaffer, eds. The Sciences in Enlightened Europe. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1999.

Daston, Lorraine. ‘The Ideal and Reality of the Republic of Letters in the Enlightenment.' Science in Context, 4 (2008)

Golinski, Jan. Science As Public Culture: Chemistry and Enlightenment in Britain, 1760-1820. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Stewart, Larry. The Rise of Public Science: Rhetoric, Technology, and Natural Philosophy in Newtonian Britain, 1660-1750. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

Sites of public science

Anderson, R. G. W., ed. Enlightening the British: Knowledge, Discovery, and the Museum in the Eighteenth Century. London: British Museum Press, 2003.

Bennet, Jim and Sofia Talas. Cabinets of Experimental Philosophy in Eighteenth-Century Europe. Brill, 2014.

Brockliss, L W, ‘Science, the Universities, and Other Public Spaces: Teaching Science in Europe and the Americas.' In Porter, ed, Cambridge History of Science, volume 4.

Coppola, Al. The Theater of Experiment: Staging Natural Philosophy in Eighteenth-Century Britain. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2016.

Delbourgo, James. A Most Amazing Scene of Wonders: Electricity and Enlightenment in Early America. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006. [to order for Warwick library]

Johns, Adrian. ‘Print and Public Culture.' In Porter, ed, Cambridge History of Science, volume 4.

Lilti, Antoine. The Invention of Celebrity: 1750-1850. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2017.

Nicolson, Marjorie. Newton Demands the Muse: Newton’s Opticks and the 18th-Century Poets. Archon Books, 1963.

MacGregor, Arthur. Curiosity and Enlightenment: Collectors and Collections from the Sixteenth to the Nineteenth Century. New Haven, Conn: Yale University Press, 2007.

Stafford, Barbara Maria. Artful Science: Enlightenment Entertainment and the Eclipse of Visual Education. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1996.

Walters, Alice N. 'Conversation Pieces: Science and Politeness in Eighteenth-Century England.' History of Science 35, no. 2 (June 1997): 121–54.

Tensions in public science

Bertucci, Paola. Artisanal Enlightenment: Science and the Mechanical Arts in Old Regime France. Yale: Yale University Press, 2017.

Darnton, Robert. Mesmerism and the End of the Enlightenment in France. Harvard University Press, 1986.

Gillispie, Charles C. 'The Encyclopédie and the Jacobin Philosophy of Science: a Study in Ideas and Consequences.' In Critical Problems in the History of Science: Proceedings, edited by Marshall Clagett. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1962.

Hahn, Roger. The Anatomy of a Scientific Institution. California UP, 1971. Especially the chapter 'Initiating a Tradition, available as a course extract [to transfer from HI296 course extracts].

Lilti, Antoine. The World of the Salons: Sociability and Worldliness in Eighteenth-Century Paris. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015.

Lynn, Michael. ‘Divining the Enlightenment: Public Opinion and Popular Science in Old Regime France.’ Isis, 92 (2001), 34–54

Roberts, Meghan. Sentimental Savants: Philosophical Families in Enlightenment France. Chicago, IL: Chicago University Press, 2016. [needs to be ordered for Warwick library]

Schaffer, Simon. ‘Natural Philosophy and Public Spectacle in the Eighteenth Century.’ History of Science, 21 (1983), 1–43

Schaffer, Simon. ''The Charter'd Thames' : Naval Architecture and Experimental Spaces in Georgian Britain.' In Schaffer et al., eds. The Mindful Hand. Amsterdam, 2007.

Schaffer, Simon. 'Enlightened Automata.' In The Sciences in Enlightened Europe, edited by William Clark, Jan Golinski, and Simon Schaffer, 126–66. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1999.