Geographies of Nineteenth-Century Science

Livingstone and Withers - Geographies of Nineteenth-Century Science“Science,” writes Nicolaas Rupke, “is not just a collection of abstract theories and general truths but a concrete practice with spatial dimensions.” It is, indeed, “situated knowledge.” Rupke comes to this conclusion in an Afterword for David N. Livingstone and Charles W.J. Withers’ (eds.) Geographies of Nineteenth-Century Science (2011). The essays in this volume “situate a range of scientific knowledge claims in civic, metropolitan, and even colonial island sites, and in such architectural spaces as museums and laboratories.” Its authors convincingly argue that “Nineteenth-century scientific knowledge…constituted a plurality of knowledges, each shaped by local customs and norms, dependent on locally generated authority and credibility, and serving partisan political purposes.”

Thinking geographically about nineteenth-century science, the editors argue, evinces a science practiced “in different ways in different places.” Accordingly, “scientific knowledge is differently spread across the surface of the earth, and moves from place to place through complex circulatory networks.” At the same time, “scientific institutions occupy distant locations in different settings.” A corollary to all this is that “scientific theories are shaped by the prevailing political, economic, religious, and social conditions, as well as a host of other cultural norms in different geographical localities, and…[thus] may bear the stamp of the environments within which they are constructed.”

Livingstone and Withers want to show how thinking geographically helps to disclose how “science—the sciences—became professional, popular, disciplined and discursively discrete, precisely institutionalized and widely instructive.” The volume contains 17 chapters and over 400 pages of text divided into three parts: “Sites and Scales,” “Practices and Performances,” and “Guides and Audiences.” All chapters work together in contributing to a continuing interdisciplinary debate about “the placed nature of science’s making and reception, about the processes that were adopted to make scientific knowledge mobile for whom and with what consequence…[revealing] that what has held to be science varied—but within institutions, at different scales, and for different audiences in different places.” Here I provide a synopsis of chapters I found particularly insightful.

Bernard Lightman’s “Refashioning the Spaces of London Science: Elite Epistemes in the Nineteenth Century,” turns to how space mattered. Following John Pickstone’s Foucauldian analysis of different “epistemes,” or ways of knowing, Lightman seeks to “identify broad epistemic patterns across disciplines and to see how they change over the course of time.”

Lightman begins by discussing sites of gentlemanly and utilitarian science. Under the helm of Sir Joseph Banks (1743-1820), a vast scientific network was constructed around the sites of the Royal Institution, Royal Society, and Kew Gardens. “All three were to play a significant role throughout the nineteenth century, but at that point they were spaces of the landed aristocracy and the upper class…” After Banks’ death, however, these scientific sites gradually began to shed their aristocratic layers. Whereas Banks and his supporters had exploited and reinforced relations of genteel patronage and obligation, a group of reformers—i.e., the “gentlemen of science” and the untilitarians—altered the politics of science. These were the “young Turks” of the nineteenth century, who pushed for reform of aristocratic spaces of science. For these reformers, science was a “professional tool to be used to create a body of knowledge useful in government and in the professions.” This vision of science was in embodied in the founding of the “Godless” University College London in 1827, “which was set up as a secular institution modeled on the universities of Berlin and Bonn, and, unlike Cambridge and Oxford, it opened up its doors to non-Anglicans.”

Banks’ network of scientific sites also underwent metamorphosis under the leadership of new men. At the Royal institution, for example, the chemist William Thomas Brande (1788-1866), who led the Institution from 1813 to 1831, embodied utilitiarian ideals, undertaking a series of activities that gave it the reputation of being a metropolitan powerhouse for the scientific management of social problems. Subsequently, Michael Faraday (1791-1867) had become an important figure by the end of the 1820s, and “Faraday and the Royal Institution were well suited to each other.” The establishment by Faraday in 1825 of the very successful Friday Evening Discourses gave the Royal Institution an even greater public presence. In 1840, the Kew Gardens was transferred to the British government, and thus by the time William Hooker (1785-1865) took charge of it, it was already a public institution. According to Lightman, “Hooker strived to transform it into a center for scientific research as well as a place for the amusement and edification of the nation.” Banks’ Royal Society was a bit more dogged, but by “1848 traditional loyalties to the Crown and Church were replaced by new contractual allegiances based on serve to knowledge and utility to the state.”

Refashioning aristocratic sites of science was only one part of a larger plan. Reformers also sought to create new sites of science. Along with the museum, which, according to Lightman, the “central institution of Victorian science, the “British Association for the Advancement of Science was created in 1831 as a peripatetic organization.” “Embracing natural theology, [members] pointed to a divine order behind both nature and society, and to the role of science as a neutral means for obtaining desirable ends.” And “like the Royal Institution and Kew Gardens, the BAAS reached out to the public.”

But as the founding of University College London makes clear, for some the “reformist inclinations of gentlemen and Utilitarians did not go nearly far enough.” Such thinkers were “enamored with French evolutionary theory,” using “radical Lamarckianism to challenge the Tory-Anglican establishment and argue for the [further] reform of aristocratic institutions.” Other thinkers thought the radicals went too far, particularly Henry Brougham (1778-1868), who attempted to counter radicals with establishing mechanics’ institutes and, more importantly, the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge (SDUK), which published inexpensive texts intended to adapt scientific material for a rapidly expanding reading public. The latter’s central aim, Lightman tells us, “was to undermine political radicalism with rational information.”

Apparently the radicals had been more effective, for after 1850, a new generation of practitioners arrived on the scene, their aim “included the secularization of nature, the professionalization of their discipline, and the promotion of expertise.” Lightman selects three man that epitomize this new aim: Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895), John Tyndall (1820-1893), and Joseph Dalton Hooker (1817-1911). These “scientific naturalists” were “sensitive to the power of place,” and set out to reconfigure, once again, several sites of science. Under Hooker, for example, “a fundamental change took place in Kew’s identity as an institution,” refashioning it into a research space as defined by scientific naturalists. As the mantle of leadership passed from Faraday to Tyndall, the Royal Institution too came to be defined under the rubric of scientific naturalism. And in his biological laboratory in the Science Schools Building in South Kensington, “Huxley was free to teach his students to view nature through secular eyes.” Ironically, the agenda of scientific naturalism, Lightman writes, “emphasized training, expertise, and laboratory research,” and thus led to “an even greater split between the public and professional spaces of science.”

There were, of course, contested spaces and sites of resistance to scientific naturalism. Although Tyndall used his presidential address in Belfast in 1874 to aggressively challenge the authority of Christian clerics, several men—Rayleigh (1884), Salisbury (1894), and Arthur Balfour (1904)—used the BAAS as a platform to deliver their defense of theism and criticism of scientific naturalism. Interestingly, it was the museum, however, that became the key space for “resisting the aims of scientific naturalists.” For example, the Oxford University Museum (1860) was embedded with “the principles of the natural theology tradition in its architecture.” Other museums, including the Natural History Museum in South Kensington, the Hunterian Museum, and the British Museum emphasized the “harmonious relationship between science and religion.” Laboratories and print culture were also generally hostile toward the agenda of scientific naturals, particularly the labs of the North British physicists and British publishers George Routledge (1812-1888) and Thomas Jarrold (1770-1853), who published a “steady stream of books containing theologies of nature that challenged the scientific naturalists’ secularized perspective.”

Lightman inspection of the places of London science reveals how different scientific sites operated different epistemes. These sites, and many others, were not simply physical locations; they were, as Lightman shows, symbolic urban places whose occupants were aligned for or against aristocratic privilege, radical reform, or scientific naturalism.

Charles W.J. Withers’ “Scale and the Geographies of Civic Science: Practice and Experience in the Meetings of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in Britain and in Ireland, c. 1845-1900” examines the geographical mobility of the BAAS, with a particular concern over what he calls “nineteenth-century civic science” in Britain. He asks, “how did the BAAS experience vary locally, by and perhaps even within, different towns?”

Withers begins by considering BAAS officers’ decision making process for choosing a host. This was a complex process that involved, among other things, apprehending “the scientific capacity of the location, the educational advantages for the local inhabitants, and the financial support that local civic bodies would give the association.” What is more, “hosting an annual meeting involved at least a three-year cycle of negotiations (often more) between BAAS General Committee officers and representatives of local civic and scientific bodies.”

The most interesting section of Withers’ chapter is his account of private responses to BAAS meetings, or how he terms it, “experiencing civic science.” According to Withers, “women formed a large part of BAAS audiences, especially from midcentury.” The diaries of Agnes Hudson, Caroline Fox, and Lady Caroline Howard are particularly instructive. Hudson attended the 1875 Bristol and 1879 Sheffield meetings, but complained about the intolerable heat because of the “insufficiently ventilated building” and the overcrowding. The Anthropological Section sessions in particular were so crowded that “several persons sat on the mantelpiece.”  According to Withers, “attendance at a BAAS meeting could be tiring, require a change of clothes (for a women perhaps more than for men), and last well into the evening.” Fox attended meetings in 1836, 1837, 1852, and 1857. She too recalls the crowds at certain meetings, succeeding in gaining admittance only “by most extraordinary muscular exertions.” She also recalls problems of audibility: “people made such a provoking noise, talking, coming in, and going out, opening and shutting boxes, that very little could we hear.” Howard likewise complained about her inability to hear the speakers at the geography session at the 1857 Dublin meeting, particularly famous African explorer David Livingstone, who spoke “in a whisper.”

The BAAS promoted what Withers calls “civic science”—science as a public good, a unifying, moral vision under the banner of scientific and political neutrality. But particulars of this mission were moderated by the different urban and institutional contexts where the BAAS convened. “Different practices in different setting—waiting for a lecture whose timetabling and audience behavior meant that hearing particular topics was a matter of luck, conversing with one’s fellows, viewing specimens without comprehension, going to lectures to seek sensation or instrumental mediation through lantern slides not understanding of scientific principles—were all elements in the making and reception of association science.”

Diarmid A. Finnegan shares a similar emphasis on the location of locution. As he writes in his “Placing Science in an Age of Oratory: Spaces of Scientific Speech in Mid-Victorian Edinburgh,” in the mid-Victorian period, “logic and location along with propositions and performances were tightly bound together in the delivery of science lectures.” He supports his claim with a close examination of the Edinburgh Philosophical Institution (EPI). According to Finnegan, in EPI meetings, “science no less than any other subject was knotted together with local conditions, politics, and protocols.” The cultural significance of public speech during the Victorian period necessitated that “science had to sound right as well as look right to retain its place as part of intellectual culture in mid-nineteenth-century urban Britain.”

Founded in 1846, the EPI attracted many eminent speakers, including Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Ruskin, John Hutton Balfour, David Brewster, Samuel Brown, Hugh Miller, Edwin Lankester, Thomas Henry Huxley, John Tyndall, John Pringle Nichol, John Henry Pepper, John Lubbock, and Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins. EPI lectures generally took place in Queen Street Hall, which was owned by the United Presbyterian Church. Much like the BAAS meetings, inadequate facilities, overcrowding, and poor acoustics were common maladies. But in addition to these “external” forces, internal forces pressed upon the lecturers. According to Finnegan, “tacit codes of behavior also applied to lecturers.” Indeed, “what could and could not be heard in the lecture hall was conditioned by the regulative ideals associated with the notion of a free platform.” Thus lecturers had to “position their scientific discourse” by taking in consideration “etiquette, aesthetics, and moral probity.”

This “positioning” is best seen in the 1850s popular lectures of Hugh Miller and George Wilson. Both Miller and Wilson “integrated literary charm and moral sobriety” into their scientific lectures. More importantly, both “held in common a commitment to creedal Christianity.” In his EPI lectures, Miller sought to “refute the charge that science lacked poetic power.” What is more, science affirmed theological orthodoxy: it was Miller’s belief, Finnegan writes, “that nature’s hieroglyphics, properly deciphered, would bring to light God’s own artistry and that the basis for the substantial harmony between geology and poetry was the identity between the aesthetic and musical sense in the mind of God and the mind of man.” This literary mode—modeled after Thomas Carlyle, albeit without his pantheism—appealed to the audience of the EPI. Similarly, Wilson’s lectures exhibited “a high strain of moral eloquence that linked every topic to man’s joys, and sorrows, and deep enduring interests.” As Finnegan puts it, “the earnest moral tone, the personal intensity of delivery, and the Carlylean tenor that characterized the scientific speech of Wilson and Miller resonated with the general intellectual and aesthetic sensibilities of members of the EPI.”

By the 1860s, however, there was a dramatic “change in the character of science lectures given to the EPI.” In the geology lectures by David Page, for example, he “actively opposed attempts to present science as a handmaiden to theology.” A more striking secular note were also delivered by Tyndall, Huxley, Lubbock, and Hawkins. Unsurprisingly, Huxley “caused the greatest stir both within and outside the institution…provoking the opprobrium of Edinburgh’s evangelical press.” All except for Hawkins, (who only spoke again in 1887) never returned to the EPI. The lectures of these men caused such a stir, that remaining science lectures of the decade had a decidedly more “combative and controversial tone.” There were even charges that the EPI had “contravened its own principles” of moral sobriety. These science lectures of the 1860s were “frequently suspected of instilling moral confusion and of severing the link between intellectual talk and moral culture.”

David N. Livingstone’s “Politics, Culture, and Human Origins: Geographies of Reading and Reputation in Nineteenth-Century Science” explores how “scientific meanings are imagined and reimagined through encounters with scientific texts and treatises,” drawing our attention particularly “to the cultural politics of origin narratives, whether creationist or evolutionary, throughout the nineteenth century.” Here the characterization of reputation become critical. Livingstone’s case study of Isaac La Peyrère (1596-1676), the father of anthropological polygenism, assessed as either heretic, hero, or harmonizer, demonstrates how persons, and their ideas, were made to stand for different things at different times and places.

Livingstone’s varieties La Peyrère, a “reputational geography,” is simply a prerequisite for his discussion of the varieties of Darwinism in the nineteenth century. In the final section of his chapter, Livingstone triangulates “a number of Irish readings of evolutionary theory,” namely Dublin, Belfast, and Londonderry. Presbyterian layman and distinguished Trinity College anatomist, Alexander Macalister, for example, although unconvinced about psychic, religious, moral evolution, he was nevertheless “enthusiastic about the power of natural selection to account for both animal and human physiological evolution,” and thus embraced Darwin’s Descent of Man. Yet another Presbyterian, professor of biblical criticism and later president of Queen’s College, Josiah L. Porter, “could find no empirical evidence in supper of the ‘essence’ of Darwin’s theory ‘that all forms of life, from the humblest zoophyte up to man, have evolved from one primordial germ.’” And yet another fellow Presbyterian, professor of mathematics and natural philosophy at Presbyterian Magee College, John Robinson Leebody, praised Darwin’s theory as the “most complete attempt to prove with absolute continuity of the chain which connects man with the lower animals,” but that it also reveals its empirical dearth and therefore “we must decline, in the interests of science, to accept the Darwinian view of the origin of man’s body, until it is proved.”

More than personal predilection and professional preoccupation directed these judgments. According to Livingstone, the spaces these men occupied, in Dublin, Belfast, and Londonderry, “critically implicated both in the stances they assumed and the rhetorical tones they adopted in their public declarations.” Macalister, for instance, was not only a part of progressive set of scientists congregating around Trinity College, he was also part of a local Presbyterian community that fostered a particularly “secular” education in opposition to a Catholic “religious” one. Porter’s judgment was no doubt a reaction to Tyndall’s presidential “Belfast Address” in 1874. Indeed, Porter’s comments on Darwin were collected, along with others, into a single volume “intended to rebut the president’s attack.” And again, Leebody occupied a different rhetorical space. As president of Magee College, he too wanted to distance his institution from Catholic pedagogy, once quipping that “there is no Protestant Mathematics or Chemistry as distinguished from that taught in a Catholic college.” In conclusion, “the geography of Darwinism in Ireland,” Livingstone suggests, “was the compound product of long-standing feuds over who should control the curriculum, the iconic impact of Tyndall’s attack, the institutional spaces occupied by commentators, and the relative security local spokesmen felt in their own sense of cultural identity.”

And finally Jonathan R. Topham’s “Science, Print, and Crossing Borders: Importing French Science Books into Britain, 1789-1815” demonstrates the critical importance of print. There are a number of discrete, but nevertheless inextricably linked, geographies operating here, including publishers, booksellers, translators, and editors. Key figures in the Franco-British book trade were Arnaud Dulau (1762/3-1813), Thomas Boosey, who established his Boosey & Company in London in about 1792, and most important Joseph De Boffe (1749/50-1807). De Boffe himself was the son of a French bookseller based in Fribourg, Switzerland. De Boffe followed in his father’s footsteps, and soon after moving to London he became a “significant figure in the supply of French-language publications.” Topham notes that “a catalogue issued by De Boffe in 1794 listed more than twenty-five hundred French books, many relating to the arts, sciences, travels, and natural history.”

The “decisions and activities of” De Boffe and others, Topham argues, demonstrates how “technicians of print affected the availability of French science books in Britain.” This is most visible in periodicals. The Monthly Review, Critical Review, Anti-Jacobin Review, British Critic, Analytical Review, Edinburgh Review, and Quarterly Review all included a section of reviews and notices on foreign literature, some, such as the Monthly seeking to “provide a regular retrospect of French literature.”

After discussing booksellers and periodicals in general, Topham turns specifically to four case studies of imported French science books: (1) Antoine Lavoisier’s Traité élémentaire de chimie, présenté dans un ordre nouveau et d’après les découvertes modernes (1789); (2) Pierre-Simon Laplace’s Traité de mécanique celeste (1799-1805); (3) Jean-Baptiste Lamarck’s Philosophie zooloqique (1809); and (4) Georges Cuvier’s Recherches sur les ossemens fossils (1812). In this section Topham introduces a cast of characters, including booksellers, translators, publishers, and reviewers. Despite the revolutionary war, and the subsequent mutual blockade between Britain and France, these events had little impact on the importation of French science books and their reading and reviewing in public periodicals. What becomes clear in these case studies, as Topham argues, “far from being automatic” the mechanism of publications “require the agency of a wide range of people, including not only scientific practitioners but also technicians of scientific print, often motivated by financial considerations.” It shows, in short, that all knowledge-making is a situated process, and thus “renders problematic any assumptions that scientific knowledge, either in its words or in its pictures, simply diffuses across the globe in a straightforward manner. Disruption of supply, translation between languages, selective reviewing of scientific literature, the local interpretations of meaning, all point to the salience of textual geography in the study of the forms of its representation in the movement of scientific knowledge.”

These essays and others in Geographies of Nineteenth-Century Science convincingly show “the placed nature of science’s making and reception”—its “practices and forms of communicative action are always grounded in particular settings, and questions regarding site, institutional organization, and social relationship in place will for that reason always continue to matter to an explanation of science’s cognitive content and variable reception.”

Wresting with Nature – Science and Place

Great Exhibition 1851
The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations 1851

David N. Livingstone once again wraps things up with his “Science and Place.” Imagining science in the singular has been used by progressivists in the service of “philosophical argument or social policy in order to provide grounds for investment in such cultural capital as intellectual advancement, technical control, and instrumental progress.” But a “geography of science,” Livingstone tells us, reveals a “science” influenced in significant ways by location. This analysis undoubtedly “disturbs settled assumptions about the kind of enterprise science is supposed to be and calls into question received wisdom about how scientific knowledge is acquired and stabilized.” In other words, what passes as “science” is different not only from time to time, but also from place to place.

Livingstone supports these claims by looking at “productions of space.” Spaces are social productions of practice, including scientific ones. “Venues like the laboratory, the observatory, the museum, the field, the botanical garden, and the hospital…” but also “cathedrals, coffee houses, tents, breeding clubs, royal courts, stock farms, exhibition stages and, no doubt, many more” are spaces and sites of scientific performance, principle, practice and theory, of institutions and ideas; and each is conditioned by geography.

The following sections on “spaces of experimentation,” “spaces of expedition,” and “spaces of exhibition,” are drawn largely from Livingstone’s Putting Science in its Place (2003), and a summary of them can be found here, here, and here.

Just as scientific knowledge is produced in a variety of places, so too the results of scientific inquiry are received in different venues. Darwin’s theory evolution is a case example, experiencing a “different fate in different national settings, religious spaces, and institutional arenas.” Protestants in Edinburgh, Belfast, and Princeton developed “markedly different tactics in their reading of the Darwinian challenge.” This leads Livingstone to posit that “scientific ideas rarely circulate as immaterial entities”—they are embodied.

More specifically, ideas are embodied “written texts,” for it is “print rather than thought or theory that is let loose upon the world.” A consideration of textual spaces is therefore necessary for understanding scientific culture. But because textual meaning is mobile, distinctive cultures of reading must be parsed within “regions and between them, within cities and between them, within neighborhoods and between them.”

“At every stage in the cycle of scientific culture, place matters. Where scientific work is conducted and where its wares are encountered make a difference to both the production and consumption sides of the enterprise. This means that if we are to understand the place of science in our culture we will need to attend more carefully to the places of scientific culture and to how these spaces have historically come into being.”

Science and Religion Around the World

Brooke and Numbers - Science and Religion Around the WorldAs we have seen, one of the most prominent, persistent, and popular myths about science and religion emerged in the nineteenth century. John William Draper (1811-1882), author of History of the Conflict Between Religion and Science (1874), followed by Andrew Dickson White (1832-1918), author of The Warfare of Science (1876) and A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom (1896) held that science and religion were inherently opposed and necessarily in conflict, thus ushering what was to become the widely current views of today.

John Hedley Brooke and Ron L. Numbers in Science and Religion Around the World (2011) assemble essays aimed at challenging this “warfare” narrative with interactions between science and early Judaism (Noah Efron), modern Judaism (Geoffrey Cantor), early Christianity (Peter Harrison and David C. Lindberg), modern Christianity (John Hedley Brooke), early Islam (Ahmad S. Dallal), modern Islam (Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu), early Chinese religions (Mark Csikszentmihalyi), Indic religions (B.V. Subbarayappa), Buddhism (Donald S. Lopez Jr.), African religions (Steven Feierman and John M. Janzen), including a chapter on “unbelief” (Bernard Lightman), and an comprehensive conclusion, bringing together previous chapters and distilling a “geography of science-religion relations” (David N. Livingstone).

The book opens with the Abrahamic traditions. Noah Efron claims that “there has been no single, enduring Jewish attitude toward nature and its study. In each age and locale, a mix of theological, social, and practical concerns determined how large a role natural knowledge would take in Jewish intellectual life and how creative and original the contributions of Jews would be.” Efron traces this ambivalence in early Judaism’s attitude toward the natural world in the Hebrew Bible, Talmud, and writings in the Middle Ages.  Although the “Hebrew Bible records little about the nature of the cosmos,” the earth was a different matter. “Ancient Israelites,” Efron writes, “sought to divine the pattern behind the animals and plants they came across.” This is evident, he says, in the rule of kashrut—of what is prescribed to eat and what is proscribed.

Other prohibitions, against medicine, astrology, and magic, were not always followed. Astrology in particular found “purchase in ancient Hebrew culture.” Some scholars were impressed with the distinct elements of Hebrew tradition, such as Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, who observed that the Israelite religion altered the very nature of nature itself: “Nature [in the Old Testament] is now degraded to the condition of something powerless…it is made a means.” More recent commentators have also argued that the Bible desacralized nature, stripping it of the inherent and independent forces that pagan cultures had attributed to it.

Composed over hundreds of years and across thousands of miles, the Palestinian and the Babylonian Talmud reveal interesting tidbits of the cultures that produced them. Mathematics and astronomy, for example, served many practical ends because of its relevance in determining religious feasts and Sabbaths. There are also incidental references to illness and cure, disease and medicine. But as Efron notes, “the Talmud, like the Bible before it, served as a source for all of these attitudes toward nature and none of them.” The Talmud prohibits magic and sorcery, and physicians and surgeons were often treated with suspicion within its pages.

In the Middle Ages, we find intermittent Jewish cooperation in science and philosophy with Christians and Muslims. Particularly, Jews “found a place in Arabic mathematics, natural philosophy, and medicine. Isaac ben Solomon Israeli (ca. 855-955),  Sa‘adya  ben  Yosef
al-Fayyūmī (882-942), Abraham Bar Hiyya (d. ca. 1145), Abraham ibn Ezra (1089-1167) were known by contemporaries as enthusiasts for natural philosophy. They were not without critics, however.  Both Judah Halevi (ca. 1075-1141) and Moses ben Maimon (1135-1204) rejected astrology, the former warning: “Let not Greek wisdom tempt you, for it bears flowers only and no fruit.” The latter, known more commonly through his Latin name, Maimonides, “propounded a limited sort of natural theology, in which nature—God’s handiwork—bears testimony to God’s power. At the same time, he insisted that humans were incapable of achieving positive knowledge of God’s essence,” thus restricting man’s ability to know with certainty anything about the natural world. “Maimondies,” writes Efron, “would be an inspiration and a prooftext for Jewish scholars writing about natural philosophy for generations to follow.”

In the early modern period, Jews like David Gans (1541-1613), Joseph Solomon Delmedigo (1591-1655), Tobias Cohen (1652-1729), Jacob ben Isaac Zahalon (1630-93), David Nieto (1654-1728), Jacob Hamiz (d. ca. 1676) embraced natural philosophy, in part because they saw it as a sort of ecumenical wisdom, and, in part, because they recognized in nature traces of God’s handiwork.

Transitioning to the modern period of Jewish-science relations, “Jews continued to find science intertwined in complex patterns with their own identities.” In the first part of his essay, Geoffrey Cantor focuses on Sephardi and Ashkenazi Jews following the scientific revolution, relaying Jewish anxieties about natural philosophy possibly supplanting attention to Torah study. While the “Jewish enlightenment,” or the Haskalah, its proponents being maskilim (“those who possess understanding”) emerged in the late eighteenth century, its most eminent exponents being the self-proclaimed messiah Sabbatai Zevi (1626-76), Aaron Gumpertz (1723-70), Moses Mendelssohn (1729-86), Mordechai Gumpel Schnaber (1741-97), it peaked during the final two decades of the century, when many rabbis condemned it for fear that it would “erode traditional Jewish observance and that they would lose influences over their congregations.”

Cantor also surveys a spectrum of Jewish responses to Darwin, emphasizing the diversity of views in the Jewish tradition. English naturalist of Sephardi descent Raphael Meldola (1849-1915) “fell into the ranks of Darwinism.” Torah and Talmud scholar Naphtali Levy (d. 1894) wrote a book which argued that “Jewish thought and Darwin’s theory of evolution were in harmony with one another.” Enthusiasm for Darwin’s theory is also found among a small number of nineteenth-century rabbis, including Abraham Isaac Kook (1865-1935), the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel. Others, however, took the opposite view, such as Abraham Geiger, a leading reform rabbi in Germany, who rejected evolution in the 1860s because of “the gap he envisaged between humans and animals,” or Menachem Schneerson (1902-1994), who once told a “wavering student not to overrate the claims of science because it possesses a very limited factual base.”

Cantor closes his essay with a synopsis of “Jews in the Modern Scientific Community,” from Nobel Prize-winning physicist Albert Abraham Michelson (1852-1931), Manhattan Project director J. Robert Oppenheimer (1904-1967), sociologist Robert K. Merton (1910-2003), Albert Einstein (1879-1955), another Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Weinberg (b. 1933), Jewish biologists Robert Pollack (b. 1940), Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002), and Richard Lewontin (b. 1929), to Austrian neurologist and psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud (1856-1939). One wonders, however, in selecting these “Jewish” actors, if family descent is a sufficient reason for their classification as “Jews.” Furthermore, in saying that there have never been an “antievolutionist movement among Jews comparable with the very hostile creationist opposition by some Christians and Muslims,” Cantor seems to have forgotten the recent theatrical release of Expelled! No Intelligence Allowed (2008), written, narrated, and hosted by Jewish actor and former Nixon/Ford presidential speechwriter, Ben Stein, which leans heavily on Jewish intelligent design theorists and/or creationists.

Turning to Christianity, Peter Harrison, David Lindberg, and John Brooke record “both opposition and encouragement between Christianity and science.” Beginning with the “advent of Christianity as an organized religion,” to the Patristic period, Middle Ages, and Reformation, Harrison and Lindberg demonstrate that there is abundant “encouragement” between Christianity and science. However Christianity’s cultured dispersers have obscured the evidence, “scientific activity flourished during a Middle Ages that was dominated by ecclesiastical institutions and an intellectual culture that was oriented primarily toward theology.” Later, the idea that science was a “handmaiden” to theology was the guiding principle of figures such as Isaac Newton and Robert Boyle. Beyond this, Francis Bacon  suggested that natural philosophy was itself a form of religious activity. Indeed, Johannes Kepler once wrote, “I wished to be a theologian; for a long time I was troubled, but now see how God is also praised through my work in astronomy.” Harrison and Lindberg conclude  that relations between science and Christianity from the Patristic period and through the Middle Ages were, for the most part, “peaceful” and that “Western Christendom actually provided the institutional and intellectual setting that made possible the emergence of modern science.”

Brooke begins his chapter on “Modern Christianity” by reminding the reader that there is no single “Christian tradition.” The Latin West, the Eastern Orthodox, the Protestant Reformation, and the ensuing multifarious traditions and denominations stemming from it,  reveal numerous forms of Christian life, worship, and church governance. Thus in evaluating the relevance of scientific culture to the Christian faith it is often necessary to distinguish opinions from particular traditions, and beyond this to particular individual thinkers, as in the case of the famous controversy between Gottfried Leibniz (1646-1716) and Samuel Clarke (1675-1729) in the early eighteenth century. Most often, scientific activity had been “defended on the ground that it furnished evidence for the power and wisdom of God.” In this sense seventeenth-century science was sanctioned by Christian theology. During the eighteenth century “many attacks on the Christian faith were launched”; not by science, however, but by biblical criticism and certain radical philosophies.

But perhaps the biggest intellectual threat to Christianity came during the nineteenth century—”not only from the historical sciences of geology and evolutionary biology but also from the practice of history itself.” David Friedrich Strauss’ Life of Jesus (1835), for example, argued that the miracles of Christ were a fabrication of the early church, who used Jewish ideas about what the Messiah would be like in order to express the conviction that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. Bishop John Colenso of Natal published a controversial collection of Essays and Reviews (1860) in which several Anglican clergy argued that “the Bible must be read like any other book—a product of its time and therefore fallible in its cosmology.”

During the second half of the nineteenth century, both geologists and evangelicals, devised elaborate attempts to harmonize the new science with Scripture. Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847), William Buckland (1784-1856), Edward Hitchcock (1793-1864), and Hugh Miller (1802-56) were some of the most well known. But by the end of the century, “it would be rare to find theological references in technical scientific treatises.” This transformation was not caused by Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection—but it certainly served as a catalyst. Figures such as Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-95) and John Tyndall (1820-93) used it as a foil in their aggressive attacks against the clergy and the pretensions of theology. It was in this way that Darwin’s naturalistic account became a divisive force within Christendom. Perhaps weary from such aggressive polemics in the previous century, during the twentieth century “there were serious deterrents to combining Christian theology with scientific discourse.” Karl Barth (1886-1968) rejected natural theology as misguided and presumptuous. But Christian apologists were tempted by new scientific discoveries, particularly the indeterminacy of quantum mechanics, Big Bang cosmology, and the fine tuning underlying the laws of physics. The spread of intelligent design theory, Brooke concludes, “is indicative of a widespread popular disenchantment with liberal values associated with Darwinism and especially with the materialism superimposed on it.”

The chapters on “Early Islam” and “Modern Islam” offer a spirited perspective on the complex relation of Islam and the natural sciences. Ahmad Dallal argues that “Arabic science did more than simply preserve the Greek scientific legacy and pass it to its European heirs.” Because the legacy came in a package, including science and philosophy, astrology and astronomy, medicine and alchemy, “Muslims, for several centuries, tried to sort out the part that contradicted their faith.” This process came to be known as the “Islamization of science.” Key contributions of Arabo-Islamic science came through astronomy, mathematics, optics, and medicine. Dallal challenges the assertion that “the lack of institutional support in Muslim societies for the rational sciences is responsible for their marginalization and eventual demise.” He also challenges traditional accounts of al-Ghazali, who is “often considered an enemy of science and one of the main causes of its decline” in Islamic culture. Dallal examines Qur’anic references to nature, concluding that “religious knowledge and scientific knowledge are each assigned to their own compartments,” thus justifying “the pursuit of science, and even a limited use of scientific discourse in commenting on the Qu’ran.” Dallal ends his chapter with some brief comments on the intersection of science and religion in Islamic speculative theology, or kalam. “One of the consequences of the Islamization of science in medieval Muslim practice,” he writes, “was the epistemological separation of science and philosophy and thereby the separation of religion and science.”

Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu extends this discussion into the relations between Islam and science to the modern period, describing the “selective transfer of ‘European’ science” to the Ottoman Empire, when Ottomans pursued geography, cartography, astronomy, technology, and even alchemy. His account is infused with the works of little-known figures, such as Piri Reis (1465-1553), Seydi Ali Reis (d. 1562), Matrakçı Nasuh (1480-1564), Abu Bakr al-Dimashqi (d. 1691), Ibrahim Müteferrika (d. 1745), Ibrahim Hakki of Erzurum (d. 1780), and many others. But in this montage of names, one wonders about the inclusion of some, such as Müteferrika, who “had once been a priest” and became “a Hungarian convert to Islam.” His voluntary affiliation with Islam may make him something other than a representative Muslim. This is the same problem with Efron’s inclusion of avowed atheists as “Jewish” actors in modern Jewish-science relations.

İhsanoğlu’s most interesting discussion in this chapter is the impact of Darwin’s evolutionary theory on Ottoman intellectuals. First, he says, the theory reached Ottoman intellectuals by way of the French, which often favored Lamarck over Darwin. Evolutionary theory was viewed, moreover, through Ludwig Büchner’s materialistic ideas in Kraft und Stoff (1855). Unlike Europe, Istanbul began with evolutionary and social Darwinist thought rather than biological Darwinism. Then there is Ahmet Midhat’s (1844-1912) translation of John William Draper’s Conflict between Religion and Science, in four volumes, 1895, 1897, and 1900. Midhat wanted to assure young Muslims that Draper’s arguments concerning Catholicism did not hold true for Islam, so he included long supplements in each volume. In the twentieth century, discord appeared between science and Islam. But, according to İhsanoğlu, the discord was “between Islam and modern philosophical currents like positivism, naturalism, and social Darwinism, which challenged religion and the belief in God.” There is, however, only scant reference to the rise of Islamic anti-evolutionary sentiment in the late twentieth century, the focus being only on Iranian University professor Seyyed Hossein Nasr, who has publicly dismissed evolution “as an ideology and not as a scientific theory which has been proven.”

The following chapters explore the relation of science and religion in Chinese, Indic, and African religions. Particularly interesting is Mark Csikszentmihalyi’s claim that Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism, and their wider religious-cultural matrix, influenced the development of natural sciences in different ways. B.V. Subbarayappa classifies Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism as “Indic religions,” casting traditional Indian astronomy, mathematics, medicine, and biological ideas as developing within or because of these religions. Indian astronomy, for example, “was essential for determining the timing of rituals and sacrifices…the construction of several forms of sacrificial altars…determination of celestial events such as solstices, when sacrifices had to be performed.” It is often said that a particular feature of Indian culture is a peaceful co-existence between science and its religious traditions. But this is, of course, not the whole story. Intriguing is Subbarayappa mention of Jawaharlal Nehru’s (1889-1964) convocation address at Allahabad University in 1946, where he expressed the conviction that “Science and Science alone could solve the problems of hunger and poverty, of insanitation and illiteracy, of superstition and deadening custom and tradition, of vast resources running to waste, of a rich country inhabited by starving people,” thus indicating a functional approach to science and technology as a guide to greater material prosperity. Despite the many claims that “Buddhism is most compatible with modern science” than any other religion, writes Donald Lopez Jr., Buddhism has existed in many forms and manifestations, and during the nineteenth century, attempts by Western scholars to reconstruct the life of Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, and his teachings, led to portrayals that would have been unrecognizable to Asian adherents. During the “colonial encounter,” where Europeans began investigating Buddhism in its original languages, Buddha was “exported back to Asia and sold to Asian Buddhists, who sent him into battle against the Christians.” Lopez cites Buddhists who see Buddhism as a science of the mind, “not only…compatible with modern science but superior to it.” “Once declared to be a science,” he writes, “Buddhism—condemned as a primitive superstition both by European missionaries and by Asian modernists—jumped from the bottom of the evolutionary scale to the top, bypassing the troublesome category of religion altogether.” He concludes that in “each of its periods of conjunction with science, a different form of Buddhism has been called upon to play its part.” Finally, Steven Feierman and John M. Janzen show that colonial African societies integrated science and spirits, “the idea of technical actions that have a powerful symbolic valence.” The efficacy of such technical processes as the smelting of iron, for example, “depended on the moral context in which they were performed.” A similar emphasis on moral and symbolic ways of constituting technical acts are also found in agricultural practices and the treatment of diseases through a combination of ancestral, holistic cosmologies and biomedical knowledge. Feierman and Janzen clearly demonstrate that examining science-religion relations in societies other than our own can be even more challenging.

Perhaps the most fascinating, and important, chapters—at least from this reader’s perspective— are the last two. Bernard Lightman covers some of the same material as Harrison, Lindberg, and Brooke, but focuses on a history of “unbelief.” Richard Dawkins, that enfant terrible of the so-called “New Atheism,” argues that Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection is “the ultimate scientific consciousness-raiser” for it “shatters the illusion of design within the domain of biology, and teaches us to be suspicious of any kind of design hypothesis in physics and cosmology as well.” It was Darwin, he wrote in The Blind Watchmaker (1996), that “made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.” In short, “atheism lies at the heart of modern science.”

But according to Lightman, such an account of unbelief is far too simplistic. Not only were there a multiplicity of national contexts in which unbelief developed, its takes “more than just a new scientific theory to make unbelief acceptable to members of the intellectual elite and the public.” The social respectability of unbelief is crucial here. Lightman begins his account with Newton’s consent to Richard Bentley (1662-1742) and Samuel Clarke (1675-1729) to use his science for social purposes, “to shore up the newly reconstituted monarchy and the established church as the bulwarks of order and stability.” Newtonianism was therefore used as a “defense of the status quo.”

This alliance between Newtonian science and religious belief is nowhere more evident than in the career of Voltaire (1694-1778). Committed to a strongly providential deism, Voltaire “drew extensively on Newtonian science to undermine forms of unbelief based on Cartesian science and Spinozism.” In his Letter Concerning the English Nation (1733) and Elements of Sir Isaac Newton’s Philosophy (1738) he aimed to demonstrate that Newtonianism curbed materialism and Spinozism far more effectively than Cartesianism, and to defend Newton against accusations of atheism. Making Newton’s natural philosophy intelligible to a wider public, Voltaire made Newtonian science a “bulwark of Christianity against atheism not only in England but…throughout much of Europe.”

Others would take Newtonianism in the completely opposite direction. Radical enlightenment thinkers such as Denis Diderot (1713-84), Claude Adrien Helvétius (1715-71), Baron d’Holbach (1723-89), and others used Newtonianism as a foil in their cause for republicanism, personal liberty, equality, and freedom of thought and expression. Soon these thinkers would reject the British political system, along with the Newtonianism closely associated with it. Lightman credits Diderot and d’Holbach in particular as key players in the history of unbelief. Diderot, collaborating with Jean d’Alembert (1717-83), began producing the Encyclopédie (1751-72) as an “antidote to English cultural and intellectual hegemony.” D’Holbach’s System of Nature or Laws of the Moral and Physical World (1768) wanted to distinguish between Newton the natural philosopher and Newton the religious thinker. The “God of Newton,” he declared, “is a despot.” Newton, “whose extensive genius has unraveled nature and its laws has bewildered himself as soon as he lost sight of them.” According to d’Holbach, when Newton “left physics and demonstration, to lose himself in the imaginary regions of theology,” he was “no more than an infant.”

The French atheists were quickly criticized and condemned by British thinkers. The attitudes and reactions of Joseph Priestly (1733-1804), David Hume (1711-1776), and Edward Gibbon (1737-94) are nicely summed up in Horace Walpole’s (1717-87) pronouncement: “the philosophes—are insupportable, superficial, overbearing, and fanatic: they preach incessantly, and their avowed doctrine is atheism; you would not believe how openly—Don’t wonder, therefore, if I should return a Jesuit.” The attempt to link unbelief with Newtonian science was not widely received.

It was “only after the troubled social and political unrest of the 1830s and 1840s had passed in Britain and prosperity returned,” writes Lightman, that agnosticism was born. Ironically, the rapid growth of evangelicalism at the start of the nineteenth century gave way to a gradual drop in the rate of church attendance by mid-century. There were many concerns, about the absence of the working classes from church, a middle class that ceased to attend regularly, and a rejection of the social and moral authority of the church. More than anything else, the Victorian crisis of faith was a “moral rather than an intellectual matter.”

At the intellectual front, although Darwin did not attempt to construct a link between evolution and unbelief, others definitely—and defiantly—tried. These “architects of evolutionary agnosticism,” as Lightman calls them, consisted of Thomas Henry Huxley, Herbert Spencer (1820-1903), John Tyndall, William Kingdon Clifford (1845-79), Francis Galton (1822-1911), and others. It is important to note that unlike contemporary unbelievers, these evolutionary agnostics rejected atheism and offered a less militant version of unbelief. Huxley’s efforts, more than any of the others, “led to the public acceptance of agnosticism as a form of unbelief.” He advocated that science and religion were separate spheres and had to be kept apart from each other; in short, a declaration of the independence for scientists operating in a space dominated by the established Anglican Church. He even coined catchy names for this new vision: “scientific naturalism” and “agnosticism.” And by distinguishing agnosticism from atheism or materialism, he presented unbelief as both intellectually viable and eminently respectable.

Although Huxley averred that the respectable agnostic was not to be confused with the atheist, when evolutionary theory was applied to other disciplines, particularly anthropology, it proved to be corrosive to religious faith. The anthropological writings of Edward Burnett Tylor (1832-1917) and James George Frazer (1854-1941), for example, shows how the social sciences, when influenced by evolutionary theory, were used to understand religion in a way that was inimical to religion itself. Evolutionary theory was also applied in Spencer’s reconstruction of a new system of nature. After deducing that law of evolution was a unifying truth, Spencer “offered empirical proof drawn from astronomy, geology, biology, psychology, and sociology that ‘the Cosmos, in general and in detail, conforms to this law.'” In other words, all phenomena were subject to the evolutionary process.

In his conclusion Lightman states that it was a “post-9/11 environment” that “spawned the ‘New Atheists,’ an aggressive and militant group far more vocal” than their agnostic and unbelieving predecessors.

David N. Livingstone’s concluding essay brings together the previous chapters and articulates a series of imperatives: “pluralize, localize, hybridize, politicize.” The essays in this volume “disturb the presumption of a singular relationship between science and religion”; they “advertise complexity in science-religion discourses at different points in time and in different locations.” In pluralizing the discussion, these chapters reveal multiple “religions” and “sciences,” neither “tidily segregated” nor identical, but “delightfully” complicated. “The singularity that ordinarily attends public discussion of the subject needs to replaced by a recognition that it is more helpful to think in terms of the encounter between sciences and religious traditions.” In localizing the encounters between religions and sciences, social geography has been absolutely necessary. In hybridizing science, unbelief, and varied religious traditions, they have integrated, intertwined, and amalgamated in “cross-cultural syntheses.” This “impurity” writes Livingstone, alerts us to the ways “science” and “religion” have been mobilized in the interests of cultural politics. “All this serves to remind us that ‘science and religion’ are always embedded in wider socio-political networks and their relationship is conditioned by the prevailing cultural arrangements.”

In addressing the “relationship between science and religion,” the authors in this volume “pluralizes the entire enterprise,” identify “cross-cutting themes,” highlight “the role of cultural politics,” and attend to “difference and divergence from time to time and place to place.”

Science and Religion: Some New Historical Perspectives: The Book-history Approach

As a doctoral student, Jonathan R. Topham worked under the inspiring tutelage of John Hedley Brooke, coming under the influence of his “diversity of interaction” regarding science-religion relations, which became a central part of his own study of the Bridgewater treatises of the 1830s.

In his essay, “Science, Religion, and the History of the Book,” Topham returns to his initial insights discovered during that study; but, more importantly, he wants to explore the interdisciplinary, book-historical approach to understanding the scientific and religious life of nineteenth-century Britain.

Topham has discussed the field of book history in detail elsewhere, especially in his massively informative “Scientific Publishing and the Reading of Science in Nineteenth-Century Britain: A Historiographical Survey and Guide to Sources” (2000). I shall return to this essay later.

In his essay in Science and Religion, Topham relates how he viewed his work on the Bridgewater treatises as a “means of understanding more widely the interplay of scientific and religious concern in British culture of the period.” Rather than merely focusing on the authors and their ideas, Topham wanted to understand the “entire circuit or network of communication in which the treatises were enmeshed, including publishers, reviewers, libraries, and readers.” Accordingly, he discovered that the treatises were valuable for a range of reasons, from a religiously and politically safe account of the latest findings in several sciences, to a means of protecting religious sensibilities by directly relating scientific findings to divine agency. The latter was necessary, says Topham, for by the mid-nineteenth century there were increasingly new forms of secular “popular science” publishing, such as the sixpenny pamphlets of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge (SDUK), which published inexpensive texts intended to adapt scientific and similarly high-minded material for the rapidly expanding reading public. The Bridgewater treatises for Topham “provided important and novel evidence of the manner in which religious (and irreligious) readers from a wide range of social and cultural backgrounds engaged with the sciences in the 1830s.”

Topham is not alone in emphasizing the importance of the history of reading in science-religion relations. James Secord’s Victorian Sensation (2000) shows how Robert Chambers’ (1802-1871) Vestiges of the natural history of creation (1844) developed the self-identity of freethinkers and evangelicals alike, and how, much more than Darwin’s On the origin of species (1859), it provided the “sweeping narratives of evolutionary progress” so central to British culture at the time. William Astore’s Observing God (2001) looks at the career of Thomas Dick (1774-1857), whose widely popular work on science and religion aimed to correct the secularizing trend among evangelicals and contemporary natural philosophers. “Through his many books,” Topham writes, “Dick developed [a] vision of the proper relation of scientific and religious concerns in direct opposition to more secular notions of popular science prevalent in the second quarter of the nineteenth century.” Aileen Fyfe’s Science and Salvation (2004) considers a wide range of publications under the auspices of the Religious Tract Society (RTS), which aimed to counter blasphemy and irreligion in the pauper presses. As Topham writes, “by the 1820s…cheap works of secular ‘popular science’ had begun to proliferate, and by the 1840s the society felt obliged to respond to what it felt to be a threat to Christianity by issuing its own works on science.” Fyfe perceptively concludes that “leading evangelicals in the mid-nineteenth century were concerned about the ‘distorting manner’ in which scientific discoveries were presented, rather than with ‘specific discoveries themselves.'” The RTS was by no means the only publishing house issuing works of popular science to counter secular trends. According to Bernard Lightman’s Victorian Popularizers of Science (2007), “a significant proportion of the most widely read science books in the post-Darwinian era presented the science within a Christian framework markedly at odds with the perspective of the secularizing ‘young guard’ of science typified by Thomas Henry Huxley and John Tyndall.”

Topham also notes, following Secord’s notion of “literary replication,” that important works in the history of science of the nineteenth century were also made known to the reading public through a range of printed and oral formats—including advertisements, excerpts, abstracts, reviews, conversations, lectures, and even sermons. Topham concludes that the book history approach helps to “refocus the history of science and religion from religious and scientific specialists,” to readers, who must be seen to be at least as significant as authors and publishers.

From “who read what, and where?” Topham turns to questions of “who read how, and why?” Like much recent contributions to the history of science, Topham suggests that a shift in historical focus from beliefs to practices is another important element of book history. “For many religious believers,” he writes, “science has been encountered primarily through the practice of reading rather than through experimental or observational practices.” Indeed, the practice of reading among nineteenth-century evangelicals came to reflect a spiritual exercise, “a crucial part of the process by which the individual soul came to know God.” This “religious self-fashioning” is reflected in scientific reading and devotional practices “found throughout evangelical and other Christian writings of the nineteenth century.” The authors Topham reviews all attest to this fact. David Livingstone and James Secord in particular emphasize what has been called the “geographies of reading,” arguing that where scientific texts are read has important bearing on how they are read. Both the practice and place of reading has historical antecedents. Hans-Georg Gadamer’s “fusion of horizons,” Edward Said’s “traveling theory,” Gillian Beer’s “miscegenation of texts,” Stanley Fish’s “interpretive communities,” and Nicolaas Rupke’s “geographies of reception” are a few examples of the latter. The former actually has quite a long history in the Christian tradition. From St Augustine tolle lege, the lectio divina of the Medieval period, to the sola scriptura of the Reformation, thinking by reading and reading by thinking were prominent spiritual exercises of Christian writers.

By focusing on readers, Topham does not want to abandon producers of books, publishers as well as authors. “By taking seriously the financial, vocational, and ideological circumstances in which works on science and religion were produced,” Topham argues, “the historian is better able to understand the motivations underlying the claims made, and therefore the claims themselves.” Thomas Henry Huxley, for example, wanted to establish a new identity of the man of science, in direct opposition to the clerical gentlemen of science. “Most of those involved in producing works on science and religion,” whether author or publisher,  “stood to gain professionally or financially, and the focus of book history on the practices of authorship and publishing helps to highlight such concerns.”

Topham concludes that “by refocusing…attention on the everyday practices of a far wider range of people than have previously been considered, historians can recover the nuts and bolts of the cultural history of science and religion.” All communities, author, publisher, reader, were “enmeshed in an industrialized network of print, situated within particular communities, engaged in personal but community-oriented spiritual journeys, and exploring different possible futures for science that the dynamic of historical change took place.”

Geographies of Scientific Knowledge: Site, Region, Circulation (Part 3 – Final)

Livingstone’s chapters on “Site” and “Region” followed recent scholarship, showing how historians have begun addressing the significance of the publication and spatial differentiation of science. In his final chapter on “Circulation,” he looks at the ways science moves from location to location and to how fundamentally local knowledge has taken on the appearance of universality.

On Circulation

“Circulation” considers the transmission of scientific knowledge from the local site to the validating authority, or from one experimental observation location to another. Livingstone challenges the idea that the movement of scientific knowledge is a function of its transcendent, neutral, and disembodied character, or, more fundamentally, it inherent universality. For Livingstone, what looks like universality has a great deal to do with the standardization practices across locales.

All aspects of science diffuse differently in different contexts. Take the diffusion of the Copernican theory throughout Europe during the early seventeenth century. While copies of Copernicus’ De Revolutionibus were censored in Italy, elsewhere it found little suppression. In France, for example, most copies were available in Jesuit libraries.

The means of transmission of scientific knowledge varied greatly. Scientific societies, learned academies, field clubs, and circulating libraries diffused “ideas and instruments, texts and theories, individuals and inventions” from one place to another. Alongside these organizations there were peripatetic mathematical practitioners, public lecturers, merchants, itinerant clergyman, journalists, and a host of others who acted as conduits in the flow of knowledge.

But the transmission of scientific knowledge is never a straightforward process. Livingstone uses the case of the air pump, invented by Robert Boyle. In the 1660s various efforts were made throughout Europe to construct replicas of Boyle’s celebrated air pump. But the “air pump was in constant alteration: transmission meant transformation.” Because circulation required calibration, disputes arose. According to Livingstone, the knowledge acquired from the air pump experiments depended on “craft knowledge of the working of experimental devices.” “Its circulation beyond the confines of one venue is not simply the story of universal truths being manifest in particular settings.”

Scientific knowledge, for scientist and non-scientist alike, is often inextricably bound up with traveling reports from distant realms. Sciences like observational astronomy, geography, natural history, surveying, meteorology, hydrology, medicinal botany, and so on, depends on eyewitness accounts detached from the controlled environment of the laboratory. Travelers experience necessarily created problems for the ways of knowing for the new science. Who could be trusted? According to Livingstone, “finding out about distant things required discernment about people.” Traveling reports, moreover, were rarely composed spontaneously. They were usually the product of lengthy compositional revision. They were the outcome, writes Livingstone, of “editorial fashioning and rhetorical flourish…a composite product of stylistic convention, personal experience, and travelogue heritage.” The circulation of scientific knowledge, then, raised profound cultural and conceptual challenges.

Livingstone pursues in the next section the problem of verifying the credibility of scientific knowledge presented by local informants, maps, drawings, and photographs. Each of these “objective” formats, he argues, are constrained both by the local conditions of their making and by the community conventions that govern their interpretation.

The challenge of eyewitness testimony encouraged early scientists to develop certain techniques to circumvent these cognitive difficulties. Guaranteeing the trustworthiness of knowledge was supposed by “properly trained eyewitnesses.” This meant disciplining the senses through suitable instruments, instruction in technique, and data gathering. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, a slew of texts were published intended to instruct travelers in the art of geographical observation. “Just what should be observed and how such observation should be taken were rehearsed in detail.” But acquiring trustworthy knowledge depended on more than technical know-how—it required moral fiber. “Trustworthiness and personal character,” writes Livingstone, “was all of a piece with trustworthiness in scientific reporting.” The mental, the moral, and the material of scientific traveler were thus merged. The circulation of knowledge, therefore, was an “inescapably social affair involving judgments about people.”

Maps, seemingly objective representations of reality and repositories of trust, were more than just typographic mapping of terrain. They charted magnetic deviation, atmospheric circulation, ocean currents, linguistic families and climate patterns, distribution of animal species, poverty and disease, mammal migration, and religious affiliation. But the idea that the map is a straightforward representation of reality is a deception. According to Livingstone, “every map is a controlled fiction.”  When Christopher Columbus produced a new world map he effectively dissolved the local geography of its natives. When James Cook named hundreds of Australian capes, bays, and isles after European naturalists, he at once effaced local designations and brought those spaces into European vernaculars. More examples are readily available, but suffice it to say, “the maps uses of projection and simplification render it a useful fiction.” The map is thus a cultural production.

In the 1800s, photography became yet another strategy for accurately depicting reality. Artistic renderings, just as eyewitness testimony, were quickly called into question and thus untrustworthy. As a consequence, the photograph was a much welcomed instrument, for it was not only empirical, simple, and precise, it also provided vicarious travel, ecstatic visual experience, accurate representation, and unvarnished truth. In reality, however, photographic evidence created as many problems as it solved. Photography is undoubtedly an “artistic craft.” In reproducing the world, travel photographs constructed an imagined world through the lens of the camera. There was much deliberate set up to give the impression of something more visually appealing. “Photographs, then, like paintings and maps, have always been the work of situated observers.”

In the final section of “Circulation,” Livingstone turns to examining the mechanism by which science standardized its findings. What looks like the universality of science turns out to have much to do with replicating, standardizing, or customizing of local procedure. Instruments, training, questionnaires, maps, and images are the techniques of trust that instills knowledge as dependable. All of these techniques help create the illusion of “placelessness,” a requirement to give “universal science” credibility and objectivity.

In conclusion Livingstone offers suggestions for further work, the biographical, or life geographical studies, of the mutual making of scientist and science. Most provocatively, Livingstone calls for a closer examination of rationality itself, “the customary conventions of practical reasoning” as adapted and employed in local settings. “Rationality,” he says, “is always situated rationality. And it is always embodied rationality.”

Science for Livingstone is not a transcendental entity; it is a human invention that necessarily has a history and geography. The implication of this emphasis on social processes erodes naively realistic beliefs about the progress of science. “Bringing science within the domain of geographical scrutiny seems disquieting. It disturbs settled assumptions about the kind of enterprise science is supposed to be.” It complicates the taken for granted division between science, society, and nature. “It [even] renders suspect the idea that there is some unified thing called ‘science.'” Science is not about culture; it is part of culture. For all the rhetoric that science is independent of class, politics, gender, race, religion, and much else besides, Livingstone’s Putting Science in its Place demonstrates how science indeed bears the marks of these very particularities.

Geographies of Scientific Knowledge: Site, Region, Circulation (Part 2)

In his first chapter on “Site,” Livingstone demonstrated that science embraces a huge range of activities carried out in many venues. In heterogeneous spaces, nature is differently experienced, objects are differently regarded, claims to knowledge are adjudicated in different ways. It is only when the practices and procedures that are mobilized to generate knowledge are located—sited—that scientific inquiry can be made intelligible as a human undertaking. In important ways, scientific knowledge is always the product of specific spaces. To claim otherwise is to displace science from the culture of which it is so profoundly a part. In his chapter on “Region,” Livingstone considers the making and reception of scientific knowledge within defined political boundaries, prefaced with the observation that those boundaries are themselves human constructions.

On Region

We live on a highly differentiated planet, divided by regional mosaics. “Traditions of thought, channels of intellectual exchange, linguistic heritage, educational customs, codes of cultural communication, forms of religious belief, and numerous other constituents of human consciousness are decisively operative in producing regional identity.” Moreover, these regions are not fixed, static entities; rather, region is dynamic, “constructed through the tangled circuits of social relations.” As such, the conduct and content of scientific endeavor, from “styles of patronage, pedagogic traditions, and conduits of intellectual transmission to networks of communication, patterns of social organization, and expressions of religious devotion has conditioned local practices of scientific inquiry and the reception of scientific knowledge.”

At the regional and national scale, Livingstone links scientific practices to issues of cultural identity. The practices of science are interrelated to the cultural practices of the people in their homeland. Both the facilitation of scientific enterprises and the receptivity the scientific claims vary regionally and nationally.

Thus the “European Scientific Revolution” must be understood not only in terms of linear histories of science that highlight the common rationalistic elements of the scientific enterprise but also in relation to the cultural specifics of religion and politics of relevant geographies. Livingstone finds the category troublesome. First, the idea that there was some single event called “the” scientific revolution is the product of self-conscious labeling on the part of apologists and historians. Second, the idea of a momentous “revolution” suddenly inaugurating modernity fails to do justice to the lengthy historical transformations connecting the medieval with the modern. And third, that imagined regional unity—Europe—may be usefully prised open to disclose external influence and internal variation. Thus the idea of an autonomous European science is sustainable only at the expense of a series of strategic exclusions.

According to Livingstone, one must take seriously the regional geography of science. Indeed, particular and cultural circumstances and different national settings all influence scientific ideas in significantly different ways. Early modern science, he says, “followed the contours of geocultural variation.”

Livingstone supports his argument drawing our attention to the ways science was conducted in several geographical regions. On the Italian peninsula in the 1500s, for instance, scientific practice was chiefly cultivated by princely patronage. Such was the case with Galileo, who managed to acquire the munificence of the powerful Medici family. Galileo had moved from the University of Padua (in the Venetian Republic) to Florence in order to become philosopher and chief mathematician to the grand duke of Tuscany, Cosimo II de’ Medici, in 1610. It was during his stay in Florence when Galileo first became seriously involved in the heliocentric debate, publishing his treatise, Sidereus Nuncius (1610), which was the first published scientific work based on observations made through a telescope. Galileo dedicated this work to Cosimo II. Interestingly enough, the courtly culture of the Medici dynasty had a theatrical style in which controversial subjects were unfettered, but would have been seen as improper elsewhere. According to Livingstone, “Galileo’s clash with the church is not to be thought of as an inevitable confrontation between science and theology; rather, it was an embodied struggle between religious authorities and new ways of knowing in a specific regional setting.”

In any case, the Galileo affair was not representative of Italian science. The Jesuits, for example, pursued observational astronomy, electricity, medicine. hydraulics, and natural history without dispute. As John W. O’Malley has observed, “Jesuits taught mathematics, astronomy, physics, and other sciences, wrote on these subjects, ran observatories and
laboratories, and attained renown in these fields.”

Another Italian site of knowledge were anatomy theaters, where public dissections of cadavers were carried out. “The defilement ordinarily associated with dead bodies,” writes Livingstone,” was sanctified by having its social meaning inverted. What was criminal outside became science inside. What was profane was made sacred.”

Cultural conditions and knowledge making enterprises were correspondingly different along Europe’s western fringe, the Iberian peninsula of Spain and Portugal. Here we see most profoundly Islamic influences, notably in works of astronomy and medicine. Another distinguishing feature was its maritime imperatives, stimulating a scientific tradition conspicuously different that of Italy’s courtly culture. Indeed, founded on the tradition of exploration, science in this region was “stamped by imperial utility.” Thus Iberian science, stemming in large part from the imperatives of empire, was a markedly different pursuit from that practiced in the Italian court under the patronage of powerful family dynasties.

This brings Livingstone to the conclusion that “scientific inquiry in the Italian and Iberian peninsulas meant very different things—in what was investigated, who had the power to make knowledge, and why certain lines of inquiry were pursued.”

The same is true of England. Similar to its Iberian counterpart, but nevertheless conspicuously distinct, overseas voyages contributed to a remarkable transformation in regional consciousness. What made English navigational concerns so distinct was its post-Reformation setting, and thus its political and religious geography. In England the “triumph of experimental philosophy took place in the midst of religious turmoil.” Protestant impulses in England directed scientific endeavors in a variety of ways. First, Protestant aversion to ecclesiastical control nurtured an anti-authoritarian stance in matters of natural knowledge. Second, the virtues of hard work, an inclination toward social improvement, and dedication to a life of personal piety fostered a philosophy of self-reliance and harmony with the utilitarian thrust of new scientific enterprises. And third, Protestant expectations of the imminent return of Christ in the ushering in of his millennial kingdom fostered misgivings about abstract, speculative disputes of precisely the sort that typified thought elsewhere, particularly France.

These sentiments inclined English science and scientists toward a “physicotheology,” in which nature was investigated for evidences of God’s handy work, His design. “The character of God was to be found in the orderliness of his creation. Natural philosophers from Boyle to Newton consistently used their investigations to disclose the regularity that the creator had built into the fabric of the universe and to demonstrate the ways he intervened to preserve its stability.”

Another characteristic feature of science—or, more properly, natural philosophy—in Protestant England was a propitious exegesis of God’s two books, the Book of Scripture and the Book of Nature. Inaugurated by the Reformation, allegorical biblical interpretation was replaced by a more literal and historical exegesis. This move also bore on how the text of nature was read.

And finally, in England it was the gentleman who constituted the culture paradigm of truth teller. “Because gentlemen enjoyed financial independence, they had no need to fabricate falsehoods.” The economic subservience of the poor made them suspect as truth tellers. Merchants and traders were in the same boat: because the economic survival required material advantage, their word was not to be trusted. “To the extent that Italian science was a spectacular courtly affair, its English counterpart was a subdued gentlemanly pursuit.”

But Livingstone wants to revel in more complexity. “In different towns and cities, in different counties and provinces, in different municipalities and parishes,” he writes, “scientific endeavors have been molded by subregional particularities.” Looking at the circumstances of Victorian Britain,  political conditions directly impress themselves on the culture of science. Manchester, Bristol, Newcastle, and Sheffield all attest to scientific practices that were constituted in different ways by different urban cultures.

The consumption, or reception, of science is also marked by local circumstances.”The meaning of particular scientific texts and theories has varied from place to place.” Here Livingstone briefly examines the work and reception of Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859), Robert Chambers (1802-1871), and, most importantly, Charles Darwin (1809-1882). Different Victorian cities met the challenges of Darwinism in different ways. For instance, Robert Rainy, the principal of the Free Church College in Edinburgh, “openly accepted the legitimacy of evolutionary speculation,”while J.L. Porter, in Belfast, was telling his students that evolutionary theory “threatened to quench every trace of virtue.” Charles Hodge, principal of Princeton Theological Seminary from 1851-1878, insisted that it eliminated purpose and plan; to Hodge Darwinism was atheism.

Rainy’s sentiment is characteristic of Edinburgh thinkers who thought about the issue of Darwinism. This was largely because Darwinism paled in comparison to other intellectual assaults on the religious mind, most conspicuous among them was the new Biblical criticism. In a retiring presidential address to the British Association for the Advancement of Science, in Belfast, John Tyndall, proclaimed that religious beliefs should be subject to scientific constraints:

All religious theories, schemes, and systems, which embrace notions of cosmogony, or which otherwise reach into the domain of science, must, insofar as they do this, submit to the control of science, and relinquish all thoughts of controlling it…Every system which would escape the fate of an organism too rigid to adjust itself to its environment must be plastic to the extent that the growth of knowledge demands.

Tyndall’s claims understandably produced a flood of angry responses from clerics and layperson alike. But most importantly, and perhaps the perspective taken by Porter and others, many who had strongly supported scientific activity as long as they believed that it would support religious ends now withdrew their support of what they perceived as a heartless, soulless, and anti-Christian science.

While Hodge proclaimed Darwinism as atheism, another Princeton scholar, namely James McCosh, read evolution as a story of divine design. Thus even within Protestantism, regional cultures and concerns led to different responses to evolutionary ideas. “The reception of Darwinism thus displayed an uneven regional geography. In some cases religious commitment was crucial. In others racial neuroses or political fixations controlled the diffusion of the Darwinian mind-set…Whatever the particulars, local circumstances were decisive in shaping how regional cultures encountered new theories. In the consumption of science, as in its production, the distinctive regionalism manifests itself.”

Science has been, and continues to be, promoted as a universal undertaking untouched by the vicissitudes of the local. This account, however, is historically misleading. “Science has borne the stamp of the regional circumstances within which it has been practiced.” Science has served dramatically disparate agendas in different ideological spaces. Treating scientific knowledge as a universal phenomenon, untouched by the particulars of location, fails to accurately depict its development and immense power in society.

Geographies of Scientific Knowledge: Site, Region, Circulation (Part 1)

Steven Shapin has called historians of science to take up the task of providing a more “contextulaized” historiography of the history of science. Since then there has been much progress in putting science in its historical context. In his well-written small book, Putting Science in its Place: Geographies of Scientific Knowledge (2003), David N. Livingstone sets out to evince scientific knowledge and practice as deeply embedded in specific times, places, and local cultures—science, in fact, is always “a view from somewhere.” Documented by an extensive bibliography, Livingstone’s Putting Science in its Place convenes much of the best recent research in history, geography, and social studies of science.

Livingstone - Putting Science in its PlaceLivingstone divides his book into three sections: “Site,” “Region,” and “Circulation.” In his introduction, “A Geography of Science?” Livingstone relates the inherent bias in studying the enterprise of science. “Science, we have long been told, is an enterprise untouched by local conditions. It is a universal undertaking, not a provincial practice.” Science is not to be touched, not to be reduced to the social, to its locality. Livingstone questions this bias. He argues that “space matters,” that place is central to the constitution of society. One’s life is greatly controlled by environment, “human life” has a “spatial dimension, and where an individual, a social group, a state, or a subcontinent is located in material space is therefore highly significant.”

But there are also “abstract spaces.” “We also occupy a variety of abstract spaces, and we infer in spatial ways to the intellectual, social, and cultural arenas through which we move.”

The “social” is another important, ever shifting and overlapping, space. The factory floor, the sports field, the dinner party, the dance floor, the office, the home are all sites that provide “repertories of meaning that facilitate communication.”

Space thus enables and constrains us; dictates what we can say and do; allows only a range of possible, permissible, and intelligible utterances and actions. This is Livingstone’s emphasis of “location and locution”: the positions we speak from are crucial to what can be spoken.

Space is thus significant to the scientific enterprise. In 1863, for example, the Southern Monthly Magazine of New Zealand proclaimed Darwinism as “demonstrating how a ‘weak and ill-furnished race’ inevitably had to ‘give way before one which is strong,'” thus justifying New Zealand imperialism. In the American South, on the other hand, Darwinism was opposed by racial politics because it “threatened traditional beliefs about the separate creation of the different races and the idea that they had been endowed by the Creator with different capacities for cultural and intellectual excellence.” As Livingstone puts it, Darwinism enjoyed remarkably different fortunes in different places, “in one place it supported racial ideology; in another it imperiled it.” Darwinism meant different things in Russia and Canada; in Belfast and Edinburgh; in clubs and church halls. “Scientific theory,” according to Livingstone, “evidently does not disperse evenly across the globe form its point of origin. As it moves it is modified; as it travels it is transformed…[thus] scientific theories [are] not stable; rather, [they] are mobile and varies from place to place.”

Space is thus not immune to the vicissitudes of international exchange. This is particularly important in how we imagine distant people and places, and how we choose to represent them to ourselves and to others. This is of immense moral and political significance, as was the case with Europe’s rendezvous with the New World, or the construction of the South Pacific or the “Orient” by Victorian imperialists. “What is striking about these representations,” Livingstone writes, “is the complicity of scientific endeavor in their propagation.” As such, science did not reveal “truth”; it only continued stereotypes.

Science is concerned with things that have spatial dimensions, with ideas and institutions, with theories and practice, with principles and performance. But who imagines this space? What are its boundaries? Who is allowed access? Can certain types of scientific inquiry be correlated with certain social classes, or with those of a particular religious persuasion, or with metropolitan or provincial cultures?  Has scientific work been used to sustain the ideology of particular groups and to promote their interests over those of others?

According to Livingstone, “What is known, how knowledge is obtained, and the ways warrant is secured are all intimately bound up with the venues of science.” Investigating the local, regional, and national features of science means that science is not to be thought of as some transcendent entity that bears no trace of the parochial or contingent. “We must work,” writes Livingstone, “with a less fixed conception of what science is.” What passes as science is contingent on time and place; it is persistently under negotiation. After all, science is a human enterprise: “it is not some preordained entity the fulfilling an a priori set of necessary and sufficient conditions for its existence; it is a human enterprise, situated in time and space.”

These are some of the geographical questions central to Putting Science in its Place. Livingstone is aware that this little book is not exhaustive in scope. His focus is rather on and around historical examples drawn from the sixteenth century to the early twentieth. Although brief and concisely written, each chapter discloses a considerable amount of information and erudition. In this post we will look at the content of chapter one, “Site.”

On Site

In the first chapter, “Site,” Livingstone surveys a spectrum of locations where scientific work is done—the laboratory; the cabinet, which evolves into the museum; the field; botanical and zoological gardens; the hospital; and the human body.

Scientific practice is undoubtedly influenced by spatial settings. Equipment regulates human behavior in one way or another. The scientific site is often constructed so as to restrain or promote certain interactions. It is also within these sites that students socialize with their respective scientific communities; here they learn the questions to be asked, the appropriate methods of tackling problems, expected codes of conduct, and interpretation. “Here decisions are settled about what passes the scientific knowledge, how it should be acquired, and the means by which claims are warranted.”

The most common scientific site is the laboratory. A long-standing tradition in the West was the idea that retiring from society was a precondition for securing knowledge that was of universal value. “Ironically, to acquire knowledge that was true everywhere, the seer had to go somewhere to find wisdom that bore the marks of nowhere.” This tradition originates from the monastic life of solitude and was central to the practice of science.

But during the emergence of English science in the mid-to late seventeenth century laboratories were erected in homes. This change was significant, because while solitude was still important, these “houses of experiment” instilled scientific knowledge as public. “In order to achieve the status of knowledge, claims had to be produced in the right place and had to be validated by the right public.” Where science was conducted was thus a crucial ingredient in establishing whether an assertion was warranted. But these “houses of experiment” were not public in today’s sense. They were only open to “the experimental public,” privileged gentlemen “whose presence was essential to the confirmation of empirical findings.” Women, children, laborers, and the like were not allowed entry.

Establishing experimental claims, however, was simply not just a matter of disclosing them; it was frequently necessary to dramatize. This meant that experimental display inhabited a space poised between conjuring tricks and scholarly authority, between theater in the academy. Serving at theater and microworld, manipulated, controlled, and reconstructed nature, the laboratory was an “emblematic space replete with cultural meaning,” functioning only in the “presence of the geographically privileged who were permitted to cross the threshold.”

Predating the laboratory were spaces of accumulation such as the museum and the archive, where specimens and samples were collected and organized according to the prevailing norms. These “cabinets of curiosities” served as an insignia of a civilized household. It was a social standing to have a collection of the “wonders of the world.” When these cabinets transformed into museums they were more than just collection sites; they were a synthetic space, a place for scholarly conversation. Thus while museums exhibited real world objects, they refashioned reality, through classification, location, and genealogy. In this sense they were more than the accumulation of global objects to gain knowledge; they were a form of global control: “by accumulating, reorganizing, and reproducing information on the remotest corners of the earth, the Victorian archive played its part in shaping worldwide geopolitical relations.”

The museum performed a variety of roles in the historical unfolding of scientific inquiry. “In the museum people learned how to look at the world, to value the past, and how to visualize relations between specimens.”

Yet no matter how extraordinary the exhibit, no matter numerous the specimens, no matter how categorized its contents, the museum was not the world itself. To view that required moving outside the confines of laboratories and collection cabinets and into the open spaces of the field. But the field, according to Livingstone, turns out to be anything but the obvious scientific site. It was often characterized by ambiguity. “The observations of the field worker were broken and fleeting; by contrast the bench-tied student of nature had time to spread out samples to collate and analyze them, and thereby to come to reliable conclusions.” The field was fragmentary, precarious, and unprofessional. The laboratory encouraged patient comparison, correlation, and contemplation. Indeed, “the rhetoric of adventure dominated the culture of field science: adventurousness conveyed its own authority. Laboratory opponents, by contrast, thought that high adventure and uncontrolled wilderness delivered nothing like the precision good science demanded.”

Between the archive and the field, the world of the museum and the world of nature, stands the garden. “Enclosed yet expansive, open yet delimited, natural yet managed, the garden occupies a place between the great outdoors and the cloistered cabinet.” Gardens “depended on its capacity to represent order over against chaos, cultivation in opposition to wilderness, art as opposed to nature.” They were an attempt to return to the Paradise of Eden, an escape from the postlapsarian world. In the wake of the European voyages of reconnaissance in the New World, the conception of the garden as a hollowed refuge from the world began to be supplemented by a vision of the garden as a “living encyclopedia.” But as well as being sites for accumulating botanical specimens, gardens also became maps of both social status and buying power. Indeed they were increasingly seen in political metaphors. Botanical gardens were agents of Empire. Insofar as zoological gardens were bound up with animal domestication, they were invariably implicated in colonial projects. Gardens, then, were multifarious spaces. They “hankered after the Garden of Eden; they sought to reproduce global biogeography; they exhibited social standing; they wielded biomedical power.”

Like the museum, the garden, and the zoo, the hospital stands somewhere between the worlds of science and public culture. In the beginning the hospital was feckless and friendless — it served in general as a correctional facility, for paupers and petty criminals. “The history of the modern hospital can be traced back to the monastic infirmary, almshouse for the hopeless, army barracks adapted to attend to tend the wounded in wartime, plague houses, and various other institutions that from time to time had to care for the sick.” Hospitals, in other words, was a place of more harm than good.

Hospitals were also moral spaces, manifesting the values of their surrounding cultures. According to Livingstone,  “medical prescription and moral orderliness” went “hand in hand” with hospital care.

The meaning of hospital space moved with social judgment as well as changing architecture. The “hospital,” writes Livingstone, “was a sermon in bricks and mortar on the medical benefits of moral discipline as fundamental to healing.” The idea that hospital interiors are readable cultural spaces is perhaps nowhere more closely disclosed then what were called insane or lunatic asylums. “Asylums have regularly been sites of surveillance dominated by the imperatives of supervision and control.” In the Middle Ages asylums were spaces of exorcism; in the seventeenth century they were used for reestablishing political order; and during the enlightenment they were used for disciplining “unreason.”

In the final section of chapter one Livingstone considers the body, human or otherwise, as a space for scientific knowledge. Rabbits used in toxicology work, rhesus monkeys for experimental surgery, rats in polio research, horses in investigations of emphysema, tests carried out on women in Puerto Rico using oral contraceptives in the 1950s, racial hygiene in Nazi Germany, are all examples of embodied scientific knowledge. “Given that bodies are resolutely located in space, there are grounds for suspecting that scientific knowledge is always positioned knowledge, rationality always situated rationally, inquiry always local inquiry” (my emphasis). Accordingly, “science displays rather than transcends human particularity—in terms of race, gender, class, and in all likelihood a host of other factors.” Whether science is practiced in a laboratory, a museum, a garden, a field station, a hospital or whatever, “these spaces are always occupied by embodied investigators.”

There are other spaces Livingstone considers. From cathedrals, ships, tents, royal courts, coffeehouses, lecture theaters, to salons, what all these spaces share is that they are made. “Space is therefore not dead, inert, and fixed; rather it is lively, shifting, fluid. Space is animated by events. It is always a production. And scientific space is no exception.”