Jonathan R. Topham

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.”

Book History and the History of Science

Nineteenth Century BooksThis morning I began reading the “special section” collection of articles published in The British Journal for the History of Science, entitled “Book History and the Sciences” (2000). Jonathan R. Topham provides an introduction explaining why historians of science have been not a little skeptical about the value of the book history approach. “It is often dismissed as an intellectual fad or as an enterprise which is illuminating but ultimately peripheral, rather than being valued as an approach which can offer major new insights within the field.” Historians of science in recent decades have tried to get away from an “unsocial history of ideas, usually rooted in texts,” so their apprehensions are well taken. In this sense they see book history as retrograde.

Topham wants to reassure historians of science that book history does indeed “reintroduce social actors,” but with the caveat: as “engaged in a variety of practices with respect to material objects.” It is an approach that rejects a history in which books are seen as merely disembodied texts. According to Topham, book history “applies to print culture an approach which historians of science have pioneered in other contexts, such as studies of laboratories, observatories, lecture halls and museums.” Such an approach can contribute significantly to a cultural history of science. “Exploring in detail the historical encounters of readers with printed matter enables the historian to elaborate an account of scientific communication by print which, instead of methodologically privileging the role of scientific authors, acknowledges the complex and contested nature of such communication.”

Besides this introduction, I found particularly fascinating Lesile Howsam’s “An Experiment with Science for the Nineteenth-Century Book Trade: the International Scientific Series.” She argues that “a close examination of the publishing history of scientific books can be particularly fruitful for the scholar interested in how text and physical object combined to constitute the reader’s experience at a given place and moment in time.” Her object of study is the International Scientific Series (ISS), published in Britain and North America from 1871 to 1911. She asks a series of questions about the histories of authorship, of publishing and of reading in the Victorian era: “What are historians of Victorian science to make of this collection of texts, most of which were written by scientific practitioners, and some by world-famous men of science? Can we construe the contributions as an ideological community in the scientific culture of the late nineteenth century? What are we to make of the publishers and promoters of the series? Can anything be found out about the people who read the books and what contribution they made to popular conceptions of what constituted the ‘sound material’ of science that prevailed in the closing decades of the nineteenth century?” But whereas historians of science may inquire about the way professionals and amateurs defined science in the ISS, historians of the book may inquire: “What and how did these works fit in the contemporary context of scientific publishing, and of publishing in general? Were the texts as fixed as they appear, or is there evidence of revision? When revisions occurred, were they announced to booksellers and the reading public, or were they concealed? Did publishers agree with the titans of science who gave them editorial advice about what constituted a saleable manuscript, and when they failed to agree, whose opinion prevailed?

Both sets of questions yield remarkable dividends. According to Howsam, “editorial decisions about what titles to include in the series are evidence of contemporary definitions of science, particularly the inclusion of the social science with the natural sciences.” Moreover, “production decisions about how to keep the series in print are evidence of how the contemporary culture of science interacted with the culture of publishing.”

Books emerge not merely from artistic motives, but from a “desire to instruct,” “inform,” or “persuade.” Books, and nineteenth-century books in particular, were “conversion projects,” and scientific authors of science of nineteenth-century Europe and North America “were just as passionate evangelists, for science, as were their opposite numbers in the missionary societies.” T.H. Huxley and his coterie wished to revolutionize the dissemination of science in society, to create a much broader audience than before. They found this in Edward Livingston Youmans (1821-1887) call for a series of new books “covering the entire field of modern science.” Youmans was an American writer working for New York publishing firm D. Appleton and Company. According to his biographer, John Fiske, Youmans was “an interpreter of science for the people.” In 1871, Youmans traveled to Britain to pitch the series to a number of scientists and philosophers, including John Tyndall, T.H. Huxley, his close friend Herbert Spencer, and even requested Charles Darwin to endorse the project. Youmans and William Henry Appleton entered into contract with London publisher Henry S. King and Company later that year. Before returning to New York, Youmans also traveled to France and Germany, making arrangements with publishers and scientists for the corresponding series there.

Huxley, Tyndall, and Spencer would form as ISS’s advisory body, “charged with helping the publisher decide which books should be included in the series, and to some extent with soliciting further titles form their powerful network of acquaintances.” Their motives, according to Howsam’s analysis of letters and other documents, were threefold. First, they wanted greater recompense for their own personal efforts. Second, “they envisioned the series as a tool in their campaign for a more secular approach to public policy.” Finally, they wanted the series to “educate” the non-professional reader about what they perceived was the latest developments in the physical and social sciences.

Howsam goes on to show how bookseller became aware of the series, how it was revised for new editions, including substantial changes based on criticisms and translations, the addition of prefaces or appendices to bring them up to date, and how in general authors kept their specific contributions “alive.” “Although the series must have found its place on the bookshelves of many collections both public and private,” Howsam argues, “few collectors were aware of the fluidity of the texts enclosed inside the uniform red bindings.”

In tracing its reception, Howsam relies on book review columns gleaned from Nature and Westminster Review, but also suggests other journals, letters, and autobiographies in order to enter the consciousness of nineteenth-century readers of popular scientific works. These latter remain, however, fragmentary, and thus periodical reviews is our best source of “what the reviewers, and beyond them readers, thought of how the series was achieving its objectives.”

“In the hands of Yousmans, King and Appleton, and Huxley, Tyndall and Spencer,” Howsam concludes, the International Scientific Series became a “vision of modern secular science.” And it was the “publishers who made the ultimate publishing decisions.” Books have a dual nature, as text and as physical object. Investigating both aspects, historians of the book are “learning to recognize the malleable text lurking below the deceptively bland leather or cloth-bound skin of the apparently torpid beast, and to demonstrate that books produced in the past had a recoverable dynamic existence in that past culture.” Book history reveals books as complexly embodied objects, giving us a glimpse of  “motivations not only of the men and woman who wrote and published them, but also of booksellers who distributed them and the readers who consumed them.”

Publishing, Reading, and Inventing Science in the Nineteenth Century

British Museum Reading Room PanoramaJonathan R. Topham’s chapter in Science and Religion prompts a more careful examination of the role of science within literature, as well as the cultural embeddedness of science itself. In several other places, Topham offers a more detailed account of the pivotal roles of author, publisher, and reader of nineteenth-century print media, particularly in his essays “Scientific Publishing and the Reading of Science in Nineteenth-Century Britain: A Historiographical Survey and Guide to Sources” (2000) and more recently “Scientific Readers: A View from the Industrial Age” (2004).

The Periodical as Medium of Science

The periodical press was without doubt the primary means of cultural circulation in the nineteenth century, having a greater impact and reaching far larger and more diverse reading audiences than books. Science permeated the content of periodicals in nineteenth-century Britain, appearing not only in dedicated scientific journals, but also in other forms, including fictional representation, glancing asides in political reports, and caricatures and comical allusions. “From the perspective of the readers of periodicals,” write Gowan Dawson and Topham in “Science in the Nineteenth-Century Periodical” (2004), “science was omnipresent, appearing even in recipes and advice on domestic pets, as well as strongly didactic fiction that was a mainstay of early nineteenth-century children’s magazines.” (See esp. Topham’s “Periodicals and the Making of Reading Audiences for Science in Early Nineteenth-Century Britain: The Youth’s Magazine, 1828-37″ [2004]) And as William H. Brock, in his chapter on “Science,” in J. Donn Vann and R.T. VanArsdel’s Victorian Periodicals and Victorian Society (1994), further notes, during the Victorian age “almost all initial scientific communication took place through…periodicals rather than books.”

The Intimate Relationship between Literature and Science

Furthermore, in nineteenth-century periodicals, magazines, and newspapers, articles on scientific issues were set side by side with fiction, poetry, and literary criticism. “In the popular press,” writes Laura Otis in her Literature and Sciences in the Nineteenth Century: An Anthology (2009), science and literature “commingled and were accessible to all readers. Scientists quoted well-known poets both in their textbooks and in their articles for lay readers, and writers we now identify as primarily ‘creative’ explored the implications of scientific theories.” Both literature and science, observes Gowan Dawson in “Literature and Science under the Microscope” (2006), are now “viewed as similarly constituted practices embedded in particular culturally and historically contingent formations, with neither privileged epistemologically as necessarily objective, rational or true, and earlier conceptions of scientific ‘influence’ have been replaced by an awareness that the interaction between literature and science is very much a reciprocal process—the intellectual ‘traffic’ is ‘two-way.'” By focusing on the complex embodied processes by which readers make sense of printed objects, new insights emerge into the manner in which meaning is both made and contested.  Scientific texts are, in any case, just as amenable to critical analysis as any work of imaginative literature, and their authority-mandated meanings equally likely to be resisted or subverted in the actual reading processes of different audiences. This new approach, according to Dawson, raises “important questions regarding the production of meaning and the transmission of knowledge that have resonated in a variety of different disciplines, and in the study of literature and science most especially.”Like the constructivist approach to the history of science, Topham explains, “the new history of reading has shifted attention from disembodied ideas to the underlying material culture and the localized practices by which it is apprehended.”

The History of Reading

According to Topham, a profound series of changes occurred in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. These changes came with epistemological and rhetorical shifts, but most importantly it came with the circumscribing of communities, “from the logic of discovery, theoretically open to all…to a far more restrictive notion of disciplined ‘expertise.'” This was “boundary work,” the active self-fashioning, self-promoting, and restricting of scientific expert from passive public. It was, in short, the predetermining of audience relations to the new sciences.

This predetermining was accomplished, in part, by the popularization of science in nineteenth-century print. It is of considerable significance, Topham observes, “that the same period which witnessed the creation of specialist scientific disciplines, typified by trained cadres of ‘experts’ and increasingly arcane and technical vocabularies, also saw the potential readership for printed accounts of those sciences increase exponentially.” In attempting to understand how nineteenth-century scientists, authors, and publishers managed the new print media, Topham refutes the traditional “diffusionist notion of ‘popularization’ in which scientific ideas are viewed as being communicated in a basically linear process from the (expert) context of discovery and validation to the (lay) context of passive public consumption.”

Perhaps the most profitable approach to understanding nineteenth-century print culture is the discipline of the history of reading, which is derived from literary criticism, cultural history, media studies, and book history. This approach, Topham argues, shows us that however readers encounter texts—books, journal, periodical, newspaper, tract, pamphlet, poster, or even computer screen—it makes a difference to the meaning they derive from them. “Readers approach books with different expectations and interests, levels of skill, and reading conventions, and these substantially alter the sense they make.” The assumption that scientific ideas and practices operate in an unmediated, uni-directional manner from scientist to lay public, as many recent work in the history of science and the history of reading have demonstrated, is, in the final analysis, completely untenable.

The reader is never a passive reader. This point is conveyed nicely in Robert Darnton’s notion of a “communication circuit” of print, found in his essays “What is the History of Books?” and “First Steps Toward a History of Reading” in The Kiss of Lamourette: Reflections in Cultural History (1990) and, more recently, his “‘What is the History of Books?’ Revisited” in Modern Intellectual History (2007). According to Darnton, books generally pass through roughly the same life cycle:

from the author to the publisher (if the bookseller does not assume that role), the printer, the shipper, the bookseller, and the reader. The reader completes the circuit, because he influences the author both before and after the act of composition. Authors are readers themselves. By reading and associating with other readers and writers, they form notions of genre and style and a general sense of the literary enterprise, which affects their texts…A writer may respond in his writing to criticism of his previous work or anticipate reactions that his text will elicit. He addresses implicit readers and hear from explicit reviewers. So the circuit runs full cycle.

In the same vein, Roger Chartier, in his “Texts, Printings, Readings” (1989), calls for a triangular relationship between texts as conceived by author, as printed by the publisher, and as read (or heard) by the reader. Recognizing this “communication circuit” between author, publisher, and reader, therefore, reveals the multi-directional nature of nineteenth-century print culture. Topham’s aim in these articles and others is to discuss ways in which such an account could be developed regarding science in nineteenth-century Britain.

Production and Reception

The most obvious starting place in understanding audience-relations of scientific writing is its production and reception. James Secord argues that such an approach must begin “from the ground up, looking at the basic material products of cultural life,” obvious in the case of experimental instruments, natural history specimens, three-dimensional models, but also equally true of pamphlets, drawings, periodicals, journals, articles, notebooks, diagrams, paintings, and engravings (see Secord, “Knowledge in Transit” [2004]). Patterns of production are an important indicator of what was read and by whom. And here bibliographers, librarians, and collectors provide data on the output of books on different scientific subjects.

But as Topham points out, looking at book production alone is problematic. Books of much wider significance have been obscured by predispositions toward “great men” and their “great books.” Because of the difficulty in establishing the actual views of those outside the gentlemanly elite, focus has shifted toward bibliometrics. While bibliometric methods are most often found in library and information sciences, bibliometrics have wide application in other areas. Citation analysis of books, periodicals, libraries, institutions, and lectures can be used as determinants and indicators of popular science in nineteenth-century publishing. Trade lists from the London Catalog of Books, for example, provides a classified index to all contemporary books published in Great Britain published from 1816 to 1851. The copyright receipts of books in the Publishers’ Circular, which was a trade journal for the publishing industry first established in 1837, is the single largest printed source of information on books published in Britain in the nineteenth century. With over 70,000 pages of listings, publishers’ advertisements, statistics and editorial matter, it represents an immensely rich and detailed reference and repertoire of sources. These more inclusive sources help avoid what has been called “cultropomorphic distortion,” that is, the overt dependency on a few canonical works as representative of the whole. We must recover, Topham argues, this “vast body of forgotten works.”

Patterns of distribution were equally as important as patterns of production. High prices of books made libraries, reading rooms, book clubs—even pubs, parlors, and fashionable salons—central destinations of nineteenth-century print culture.

The Rise of Periodicals

Such “full publishing profiles,” as Topham calls them, is not only a largely unexplored area, but a dauntingly time-consuming and exhausting exercise. In recent years, however, historians have made a determined effort through the aid of technology, by the development of computerized bibliographical databases. This “electronic harvest,” as Secord termed it in an Essay Review (2005) of the same title, has given much more attention to periodicals than to books. And for good reasons. “Journals,” writes Topham, “played a particularly important role in defining reading audiences,” and even more important were non-specialist reviews, magazines, newspapers, which had much wider circulation than the more specialist periodicals. For example, Susan Elizabeth Darwin, Charles Darwin’s older sister, in the 1830s recommend her brother read the Penny Magazine to gain “a little smattering” of geology. Michael Faraday felt a personal indebtedness to Jane Marcet, author of Conversations on Chemistry (1805), as one of his inspirations to study in the scientific field. Marcet was determined to explain chemistry in a straightforward and clear way even though she herself was not a chemist. In a letter to Swiss physicist Auguste de la Rive, Faraday wrote:

Mrs Marcet was a good friend to me, as she must have been to many of the human race. I entered the shop of a book-seller and book-binder at the age of 13, in the year 1804, remained there eight years, and during the chief part of the time bound books. Now it was in those books, in the hours after work, that I found the beginning of my philosophy. There were two that especially helped me, the Encyclopaedia Brittanica from which I gained my first notions of electricity, and Mrs. Marcet’s Conversations on Chemistry which gave me my foundation in that science.

What is more, in comparison with the 1,250 copies of the first edition of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species that were printed and in circulation by the end of 1859, Darwinian ideas soon reached a vastly larger audience through the reviews and other commentaries carried by well over a hundred periodicals, several of which had print runs far in excess of 10,000. Newspapers and magazines, as Secord argues, often functioned as foils for readers’ own developing views: they might read them “not to agree with them, but to think with them.” Periodicals were also explicit forums of debate. Huxley, for instance, published much of his most important work in journalistic form, pictured himself and his adversaries as “dialectic gladiators, fighting in the arena of the Fortnightly [Review], under the eye of an editorial lanista, for the delectation of the public.” As Gawon and Topham put it, “such general periodical played a highly significant role, probably far greater than that of books, in shaping the public understanding of new scientific discoveries, theories, and practices.”

There is, then, the “need to recover the often faint traces of individual reading habits.” And thanks to such technological advances as the Waterloo Directory of English Newspapers and Victorian Society, Poole’s Index to Periodical Literature, 1802-1906, Wellesley Index of Victorian Periodicals, Science in the Nineteenth-Century Periodical (SciPer), Nineteenth Century Serials Edition (NCSE), Reading Experience Database (RED) and others, the staggeringly vast output of nineteenth-century periodicals is increasingly being put under bibliographical control. Indeed, “historians have never been in a better position to identify the actual patterns of reading historical actors, and it is only by reading the evidence of production and distribution…that an accurate picture can be obtained of who read what, and where.”

Reading Practices

This empirical approach to the history of reading is only a beginning. In addition to knowing the “what and where,” we also need to know “how and why readers read what they read.” Parsing authorial intentions and textual strategies of authors have traditionally been the main method of historians. In recent years scientific authors in particular have come under closer scrutiny. There is a “growing awareness that the thinking that scientists do, rather than being purely cerebral, is also a ‘practical activity, intimately bound up with other kinds of doing,'” leading into an interest in the sociological and rhetorical nature of scientific writing. In several places Steven Shapin alerts us to the rhetorical aims of scientific texts and writings about science (see esp. “History of Science and Its Sociological Reconstructions” [1982]; “Pump and Circumstance: Robert Boyle’s Literary Technology” [1984]; “A Scholar and A Gentleman: The Problematic Identity of the Scientific Practitioner in Early Modern England” [1991]; The Scientific Revolution [1996]; “Science and the Modern World” [2007]; and “The Image of the Man of Science” [2008]), as does Jan Golinski (see “The Theory of Practice and the Practice of Theory: Sociological Approaches in the History of Science” [1990] and Making Natural Knowledge: Constructivism and the History of Science [1998]), Peter Dear (see esp. The Literary Structure of Scientific Argument [1991]), Geoffrey Cantor (see “The Rhetoric of Experiment,” in D. Gooding, T. Pinch, and S. Schaffer, The Uses of Experiment: Studies in the Natural Sciences [1989]), and others (see also A.E. Benjamin, G.N. Cantor, and J.R.R. Christie, The Figural and the Literal: Problems of Language in the History of Science and Philosophy, 1630-1800 [1987]).

Related to this is what Topham calls the “semiotics” of books as objects of sign and symbol. A book’s physical structure played quite a significant determinant of reading experience. A book’s physical appearance reveals not only its intended audience but its intended meaning, “publishers increasingly sought to exploit different physicals forms for different audiences, often, indeed, producing multiple editions of the same work to suit the pockets and tastes of different readers.” Attention must be given, moreover, to the complex and changing semantics of typography, material paper, format, and binding. Leslie Howsam, for example, argues in  “An Experiment with Science for the Nineteenth-Century Book Trade: The International Series” (2000) that “the bland package of a printed and bound book” conceals a “complex history of networking and power-broking among authors and publishers,” seldom hinting at “decisions to include or omit material” negotiated between publisher and writer. A case in point is the International Scientific Series, “whose ‘familiar red covers’ were described as ‘a guarantee of sound material within.'” But the readily recognizable packaging, according to Howsam, evoked “the illusory but still compelling insurance of textual quality,” and thus exists as a “triumph of nineteenth-century publishers’ marketing that continues to resonate in antiquarian bookshops and rare-book collections today.” Such an “analytical bibliography” of books will thus “recover crucial aspects of historical reading experiences.”

A text’s own self-definition, however, is never enough to tell us a reader’s motivations and experiences in reading. “Readers approach books with different expectation and interest, levels of skill, and reading conventions, and these substantially alter the sense they make.” What a book means thus frequently becomes a matter of contest between parties engaged in a struggle for cultural authority. One must consider the agency of readers in subverting authorial intentions and textual strategies in producing meaning.

But the reader is never a wholly free agent. Indeed, readers are not only greatly affected by the formal and textual strategies of printed objects; they are also obviously constrained by the culture of the communities to which they belonged. These communities of readers are distinguished, furthermore, by differences in reading ability, in norms and conventions that defined legitimates uses, ways to read, instruments and methods of interpretation, and by differences in their expectations and interests. “The historians task,” says Topham, is to chart the “differences in educational provision, by analysing the different conceptions of reading conveyed by such guides to reading as conduct manuals, periodical reviews, and sermons, by examining the different representations of reading in works of art and literature and in more personal sources like letters and autobiographies, and by considering the different spaces in which reading took place.” If reading practices are indeed embodied, then questions about what scientists read, when, and with what effect are just as important as public reading practices.

An example of what this might look like is provided by Topham in “Scientific Readers: A View from the Industrial Age” (2004), in the case of Charles Darwin. Darwin’s reading notebooks—recording books he intended to read or had read—have been transcribed and annotated, as have his marginalia and early theoretical notebooks by a generation of dedicated scholars. Darwin’s reading was a key element of his scientific work. His reading of Thomas Malthus’s Essay on the Principle of Population (1798) is well known. Less known is how Darwin set about reading books, making notes, where he learned those practices, and how he shared these personal practices of reading with his scientific peers. The recent collection of essays edited by Jonathan Hodge and Gregory Radick in The Cambridge Companion to Darwin (2009), attempts to fill this gap by examining Darwin’s main scientific ideas and their development; his science in the context of its times; and the influence of Darwinian thought in recent philosophical, social and religious debate. Hodge’s essay in particular, “The Notebook Programmes and Projects of Darwin’s London Years,” provides a sketch of Darwin’s reading habits during his most productive years in London following the Beagle voyage. It was during his time in London where Darwin formulated almost “all the main theories later published in the 1850s, 1860s, and 1870s: his theory of the origin of species; his theory of generation or reproduction and heredity; his theory of the origin of the moral sense in man from ancestral animal social instincts; and his interpretation of the expression of the emotions in man and animals.” All this work is collected in a series of small leatherbound notebooks which Hodge carefully dissects.

Topham also insists, following Secord, that reading for Darwin was a bodily activity. For Darwin, “books were not for ostentatious display, but tools for use.” According to Secord, Darwin “split them in half, ripped pages out of pamphlets, and never had anything rebound”; he had “accumulated a personal library of several thousand books, but was very selective and bought only those likely to prove valuable to his own work in specific ways.” Topham also relates a memory recalled by Darwin’s son, Francis Darwin, regarding his father’s procedures of note-making and annotation:

He had one shelf on which were piled up the books he had not yet read, and another to which they were transferred after having been read, and before being catalogued. He would often groan over his unread books, because there were so many which he knew he should never read. Many a book was at once transferred to the other heap, either marked with a cipher at the end, to show that it contained no marked passages, or inscribed, perhaps, “not read,” or “only skimmed.” The books accumulated in the “read” heap until the shelves overflowed, and then, with much lamenting, a day was given up to the cataloguing.

Martin Rudwick has also highlighted the social and spatial situatedness of Darwin’s scientific work during the years he spent in London. In his “Charles Darwin in London: The Integration of Public and Private Science” (1982), Rudwick argues that Darwin’s involvement and participation in the collective enterprise of the Geological Society shaped both his public and private theorizing on transmutation, as well as his scientific practices, which included his note-making. Darwin’s work, in other words, was not a solitary affair; it was “molded by social practices such as  formal discussion in society meetings, private conversation and correspondence, and even practical cooperation in research.” Reading practices—especially scientific ones—are “craft skills,” learned by example and usually part of some pedagogical process.

Punch Magazine 1885 - Bristish Museum Reading RoomThe evidence for reading practices which has received most attention from historians have been, of course, periodical reviews. In the early nineteenth century, periodicals were seen as important sources of advice on reading, informing readers not only about what but also how they should read. What is more, popular and more general periodicals like Wesleyan Methodist Magazine reportedly sold 25,000 copies monthly in 1820—far more than either the Edinburgh or Quarterly reviews—and provided authoritative guidance both on what and how to read. Other scholars have pointed to other sources as well, including conduct manuals, sermons and lectures, as well as personal sources of advice such as conversations and letters, for guidance as reading practices. The main point here is that reading is embedded in oral culture and serves as social intercourse, as social function; and because it is social it has to be practiced in particular ways.

Patterns of Publishing

Readers were largely dependent on the commodity market of the book trade. Indeed, publishers acted as creative agents, responsible for selecting and developing certain forms of scientific publication. Mention has already been made of the rhetorical strategies of the International Scientific Series. Historians of science have traditionally focused on the profound technological advances made in nineteenth-century print, including mechanization of paper manufacturing, national transportation, mass-produced cloth case bindings, and so on. But Topham wants to avoid slipping from a “‘soft’ form of technological determinism to a ‘hard’ form which make changes in print culture…follow ‘inexorably’ from the development of paper-making machines, stereotype moulds, steam presses, or binding cloth.” According to Topham, the development of these technologies were the result of commercial imperatives in the book-trade. These imperatives, moreover, included not only the practices and motivations of publishers, but the concerns of both authors and readers as well.

In a series of books (Judging New Wealth:Popular Publishing and Responses to Commerce in England, 1750-1800 [1992]; The English Novel 1770-1829: A Bibliographical Survey of Prose Fiction Published in the British Isles, 2 Vols.[2000]; and more recently, The Business of Books: Booksellers and the English Book Trade 1450-1850 [2007]), James Raven argues that dramatic changes in publication were chiefly due to fundamental changes in the commercial orientation of the book trade. The roots of these changes, he says, were the commodification of middle-class leisure. The middle-class demanded books, and the book trade in turn developed new genres to exploit the new emerging market, including the novel and the magazine, children’s books and “recreational” books of natural philosophy and natural history, anthologies, and new physical formats such as pocketbooks. “In the book trade of early nineteenth-century Britain,” writes Topham, “publishers were more than ever before innovative entrepreneurs, intent on creating and exploiting new markets with an increasing range of literary products.”


All this leads to questions about the dramatis personae of nineteenth-century scientific books. Who were the scientific writers? It is now well-known that many of those who wrote on science were not scientific practitioners themselves. The range of individuals are considerable, including “hack writers,” “compilers”of miscellanies, “fashionable” authors, “professional” journalists, and the band of reviewers in weeklies and monthlies of the general and religious press. Some scholars have gone to great lengths in identifying where such “authors lived or worked, their dedicatees, their occupations, and their educational institutions, together with indexes of printers and publishers and of the places of publication.” Indeed, Bernard Lightman has claimed that “professional scientists…account for only a small portion of the works of Victorian popularizes of science,” and “may have been more important than the Huxleys and Tyndalls in shaping the understanding of science in the minds of a reading public composed of children, teenagers, women, and nonscientific males.”

But distinguishing scientific practitioner who was also scientific author from nonscientific writer is no easy task. Otis in her Literature and Sciences in the Nineteenth Century, often mentions the close relationship between scientific practitioner and literary writer: “anyone who read the works of successful scientists could see immediately that most good scientists were also imaginative writers…to win the confidence of educated readers, nineteenth-century scientists made frequent references to the fiction and poetry of the day and to that of earlier generations.”

But more than mere credibility, the scientific practitioner who was also scientific author had significant financial incentives in composing popular works. Indeed, authorship had been an increasingly valuable source of income for scientific practitioners, beginning in the eighteenth century and onwards, as the market for books on natural subjects greatly expanded.

As an example, Topham looks at the literary labors of Scottish physicist, mathematician, astronomer, inventor, and writer, David Brewster (1781-1868). For Brewster, the financial incentives of science were endless. He supported himself by writing, editing, tutoring, inventing, serving on scientific societies, occasional prizes, and government pension. “Like many of his contemporaries,” writes Topham, Brewster “particularly benefited from the burgeoning range of early nineteenth-century periodicals, becoming a regular reviewer for the heavy quaterlies and an editor of several of the new scientific magazines.”

There was clearly a living to be made from such work in the early nineteenth century. But this revenue came at a cost. Scientific writers were forced to develop a multifaceted persona in which they were both original and authoritative, exhibiting both genius and expertise. For the “aspiring man of science, learning to write within this genre was the prerequisite of success as a scientific author.” More importantly, as Richard Yeo has argued in his essay, “Science and Intellectual Authority in Mid-nineteenth Century Britain” (1989), with popular works like Chambers’ Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation, scientists were provoked in “writing self-conscious works of ‘popular science’ to enforce their claims to authority.” According Topham, it is only by situating scientific authors and their writings within the context of the ever-expanding print culture and the increased status and power of nineteenth-century authors that we can fully appreciate their role in the making of science.


If reading is to become a subject of serious and integrated historical scrutiny, it needs to combine the “external history of reading”—the who, what, where, and when of reading—with the “internal” history of how and why readers read. Alvar Ellegård’s Darwin and the General Reader (1958) relies on the publication of articles on evolution in the British periodical press, and thus is a good example of an entirely “external” reception study. Although Topham criticizes Ellegård as giving “no thought to how such articles were read or responded to by readers,” his chapter on “Science and Religion: A Mid-Victorian Conflict” provides important periodical sources that reveal conflict emerging from discussions of “Higher Criticism” rather than Darwinism; and his earlier work, “The Readership of the Periodical Press in Mid-Victorian Britain” (1957) provides a painstakingly researched directory of nineteenth-century newspapers, weekly reviews, quarterlies, monthlies, journals, and magazines.

To be sure, Ellegård’s attempt to codify public opinion on Darwinism by a statistical analysis of press reaction, classifying responses according to just a handful of possible positions,  obscures the vibrancy of debate on the topic. In the final analysis, an external history of reading can only be partial. Sources for an internal history of reading include the book as a semiotic system, its material form as a printed artifact; individual encounters with works recounted in dairies, marginalia, notes, correspondence, and autobiographies; and a history of education, including studies on how habits of reading were instilled in grammar schools and university students.

The idea that the historian might be able to gain a fuller understanding of the experience of nineteenth-century readers of books and periodicals by combining evidence from production, distribution, and consumption with evidence from relating to textual strategies of authorship, and to contemporary reading practices, has far-reaching consequences for the historian of science. Indeed, as Secord puts it, such a pursuit is “a study of cultural formation in action.”

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.”