Geographies of Nineteenth-Century Science

Geographies of Nineteenth-Century Science


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In Geographies of Nineteenth-Century Science, David N. Livingstone and Charles W. J. Withers gather essays that deftly navigate the spaces of science in this significant period and reveal how each is embedded in wider systems of meaning, authority, and identity. Chapters from a distinguished range of contributors explore the places of creation, the paths of knowledge transmission and reception, and the import of exchange networks at various scales. Studies range from the inspection of the places of London science, which show how different scientific sites operated different moral and epistemic economies, to the scrutiny of the ways in which the museum space of the Smithsonian Institution and the expansive space of the American West produced science and framed geographical understanding. This volume makes clear that the science of this era varied in its constitution and reputation in relation to place and personnel, in its nature by virtue of its different epistemic practices, in its audiences, and in the ways in which it was put to work.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780226487267
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 07/15/2011
Pages: 536
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.40(d)

About the Author

David N. Livingstone is professor of geography and intellectual history at Queen’s University, Belfast. Charles W. J. Withers is professor of historical geography at the University of Edinburgh. They are the editors of Geography and Revolution and Geography and Enlightenment, both published by the University of Chicago Press.

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Copyright © 2011 The University of Chicago
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-226-48726-7

Chapter One

Thinking Geographically about Nineteenth-Century Science


Because science is a spatially distributed entity, it makes sense to bring it—and its many dimensions—within the arc of geographical inspection. The list of scientific themes that might be scrutinized through geographical lenses is extensive. Scientific practices and procedures operate in different ways in different places, often in highly distinctive venues. Scientific knowledge is differentially spread across the surface of the earth, and moves from place to place through complex circulatory networks. Scientific institutions occupy distinct locations in different settings. 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, not least in the natural and field sciences, they may bear the stamp of the environments within which they are constructed. The list could be elaborated ad libitum.

For this reason, various proposals have been put forward with regard to the organizational structures and conceptual taxonomies involved in understanding the geography of science. Scholars who have reviewed the field have offered a variety of taxonomic schema that differently order key questions having to do with the sites and social spaces of science's production and reception, the nature of its mobility across space and between different communities, and so on. For one, moves toward "the cultivation of a spatialised historiography of science," initially proposed under the headings of "the regionalisation of scientific style," the "political topography of scientific commitment" and the "social space of scientific sites," were later refined to advance "site," "circulation" and "region" as the principal organizational categories for understanding science's venues, movement, and variant areal expression. For others, the shaping of scientific knowledge centered upon the themes of the territory, of working classes, pastoral privileges, metropolitan spaces, and research sites. Yet others advocated a threefold approach to the geography of knowledge—a static geography of place, a kinematic geography of movement, and consideration of the dynamics of travel—or, simpler still, have advanced a twofold conceptualization of the places of science's making and reception (science in situ) and matters of science's movement across space (science in motion).

Each of these classificatory concerns has been aimed not only at making sense of the spatial nature of science, but at the connections between such spatiality, the complex social practices that go to make up and to maintain scientific knowledge, and those matters of embodiment, credibility, and authority through which science is undertaken so as to be believed and acted upon. In the end, each of these arrangements turn out to be, at best, rough approximations for thinking about two compelling sets of questions: the first having to do with the making and meaning of science in place, the second with science's movement over space. Why was science promoted there and not somewhere else? Why should science there have taken that form? How does science travel—within and between communities of practitioners, for example, or from "expert" to "lay" audience? How is science communicated over distance? There are, of course, many other spatially inflected questions. Addressing these and other spatial matters demands attention to much more than location. Place, to take just one term, has complex meanings. As others have remarked, "Place is not mere background atmospherics, but provides for the very possibility of intellectual innovation." So, too, space is not mere geographical extent, a surrogate for territory or landscape. As Henri Lefebvre has taught us, spaces are produced and are themselves productive of different social and material relationships. Spaces are therefore not to be thought of as "givens," as mere "containers" or "territories" inside and across which human activities simply take place. To the contrary, they are to be thought of as social productions, as constituted by social life in such a way that "material space" and "mental space" are elided. As Lefebvre styles it, his design is to elaborate an account of social life "which would analyse not things in space but space itself, with a view to uncovering the social relationships embedded in it." Because it signifies "dos and don'ts," space "is at once result and cause, product and producer." And as others have framed it in relation to the broader "spatial turn" in the humanities and social sciences, thinking about the placed and spaced nature of science is vital to comprehension of the different meanings science has had for its actors, agents, artifacts, and audiences: "Geography matters, not for the simplistic and overly used reason that everything happens in space, but because where things happen is crucial to knowing how and why they happen." Just how this is so for scientific spaces is critical to understanding how the geographies of science work at different times and in different arenas.

The possibilities for thinking geographically about science may, however, simply be too rich, too fertile, too intricate, to be reduced to the tidy mechanics of any easy classificatory system that will locate work under one or another of these general headings. But we insist nevertheless that thinking geographically matters. We do so because geography, like time and embodiment, is an essential thing: just as there is a rich history of science, so there is a rich geography of science. Explaining the places and spaces of and for science is as coherent and rich a project as locating it and explaining its temporal dimensions. Coming to terms with science's somewhere is as vital as surveying and explaining its sometime and its somebodies.

Geography's disciplinary vocabulary and methods are instructive and informative in our concern with science's spatial dimensions. In addition to the language of place and space—albeit that they, with others, are not exclusively geographical terms—we may draw upon notions of scale, hierarchy, distribution, location, and, certainly, upon maps and mapping from the geographical lexicon. The mapping of scientific activity is undoubtedly a useful exercise in identifying where scientific pursuits take and took place and might profitably be surveyed at a range of different scales. Simply plotting where in Euclidian space various science-related enterprises are pursued can reveal significant patterns at global, regional, urban, and more local scales. But such cartographic ventures are, in a fundamental way, merely the prelude to the project of elucidating a comprehensive suite of scientific geographies. For any distributional map of scientific practices invites scrutiny of how those "truth spots"—as Thomas Gieryn characterizes them—came into being, how they shape the knowledge that is produced in them, how they are occupied by human agents, and the relationship that they sustain between physical space and social space. If, then, as Gieryn further puts it, we must recognize that the laboratory is a significant "witness box" for science, we must also recognize that what have been called the "hallmarks of experimenting," namely, matters of reliability, claims to rationality and ideas of tolerance and accuracy, took the shape they did because of the ways in which built places materialized identities for the people, organizations, and practices they housed. Nor should we neglect the fact that categories of scientific place, such as "the laboratory," or "the field" do not reduce to simple definition.

Let us be clear, too, about what the geography of science is not, in our view at least. The idea of a geography of science has, from time to time, been taken to circumscribe the influence that the physical environment is purported to have exerted on scientific undertakings. With proximate roots in the environmentalist philosophy of Montesquieu and the more recent writings of figures like Ellsworth Huntington and Ellen Semple, this perspective has been championed in Harold Dorn's 1991 Geography of Science. This account centered on a Wittfogel-style narrative that attributed the development of science to the effects of those societies requiring techno-scientific initiative to deliver effective hydraulic management. In explaining the evolution of science, Dorn looked to "soil, climate, hydrology, and topographical relief, and to demographic fluctuations, latitude, and the differences between sown fields, steppe, and desert." This form of ecological constructivism is problematic, trading as it does on large generalizations derived from a priori assumptions about the determining impact of the physical environment. But this should not be taken to mean that physical landscapes have no influence on the shape of scientific knowledge. As A. M. Keeling recently observed, the "emphasis on the cultural and social geographies of knowledge production, privileges the representations and practices of scientists, devoting rather less attention to the natural spaces and phenomena which they study and engage." This raises critical questions about the role of agency. And it brings into view both Bruno Latour's project to disperse agency across the human and nonhuman worlds in networks of actants and Tim Ingold's efforts to recast the human agent as already inescapably embedded in the world and not abstractable from it. Whatever the ontological status of these proposals, they open up new possibilities for thinking about the role of the physical environment in conditioning scientific knowledge and practice that do not collapse into naïve

Thinking geographically about science, however, does not reduce either to cartographic survey or to environmental causation. As the following chapters reveal in different ways, geography matters in manifold ways to making sense of the shape of science throughout the nineteenth century. For several reasons, as the chapters so ably show, the geographies of nineteenth-century science present a particularly fertile intellectual terrain for inquiries of this sort: science was being given disciplinary shape in this period as perhaps not before; science became in this period a public good with a variety of audiences and staging places; science's disciplinary emergence was evident in certain discursive procedures and methods that helped define "the field" in question; particular forms of dissemination, be they lectures, specialist journals, or instrumental procedures, helped give science a public and professional credibility not readily enjoyed in earlier periods. Presently, we elucidate the structure we have devised to impose one form of coherence on our authors' endeavors. Here, we prepare the ground for these more detailed studies by addressing a sequence of geographical motifs that clarify, deepen, and extend our understanding of the range, character, and performance of science in the nineteenth century.


What emerges from the essays presented in this volume is the remarkable range of sites in which scientific concerns have been engaged. All of these are mappable locations, and each site is embedded in wider systems of meaning, authority, and identity. Lightman's inspection of the places of London science, to take just one example, reveals how different scientific sites operated different moral and epistemic economies. Some, like the privileged venues patronized by figures like Joseph Banks, were aristocratic in nature. Others, like those occupied by the British Association for the Advancement of Science, were spaces where a gentlemanly reform of science manifested itself. Still others, such as those within London University, presented themselves as sites of resistance to the utilitarian efforts of the gentlemen of science and, in some places, of pressure for much more radical change in the practice of science. These sites and economies, and many others, were thus 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. Taken at the scale of a city as a whole, sites of scientific experimentation and of scientific patronage appear within scientific institutions, including museums, and in gentlemen's homes and offices.

Consider in these terms one recent survey of the connections between science and the city that addresses what the editors term "an urban history of science." Rather than seeing the city as itself a "setting" for scientific sites in any simple sense—as, say, a map of locations, a gazetteer of science's urban places—Dierig, Lachmund, and Mendelsohn proposed attention to four themes: the rise of urban expertise; science and the representation of the city; places of knowledge and their urban context; and knowledge from the street. Thinking about cities as sites of and for science might seem to sanction imprecision; that is, with the change of scale away from the extra-local making of science within given sites to bigger pictures, we lose our grasp of science's conduct locally. This is not so. Rather, the change from institutional site and practice to the city as both site and scale affords different ways of comparative thinking about the cartographies of science and, since scientific knowledge has to travel between and within city sites and out from them to different audiences, it affords different perspectives upon the ways in which science moves within a city's interpretative communities.

Just how particular kinds of symbolic transactions were implicated in urban scientific sites comes through clearly in the essay by Samuel Alberti on museums (chapter 3). Alberti's focus is on the way in which museum space was used to convey credibility, authority, and expertise. Exploiting the critical relationship between personal authority and material authority, he shows the role played by physical objects—particularly the "type specimen"—and their location within museum space in the negotiation of cognitive authority. Museum space was never simply a container: as the repository of a multitude of items, it transacted credibility. Alberti's analysis shows how museum space was routinely implicated in questions rotating around identity, authority, and what is sometimes called object epistemology. In museums, then, we see the possibilities for connecting in particular ways what others have termed material autobiography and the biographies of place.

The city, then, is an important but variable arena for addressing the geographies of nineteenth-century science. If we were to adopt, for instance, the theme of science and the representation of the city from within the taxonomy above, and to do so with reference to the medical sciences, then metropolitan science was both a form of knowledge and a matter of technical sophistication. It required, as it did for contemporaries managing city space, attention at city level: practices of urban sanitation that drew (or, often, did not) upon revised etiologies of disease transmission, for example, in which context science was applied to building design and the provision of fresh water and seen as socially ameliorative, or the regulation of access to botanical gardens and museums as educational and civic spaces. Cities, nineteenth-century or otherwise, thus become a worthwhile scale of inquiry within the geographies of science for, among other things, what is revealed there of the social work that science does, how, and for whom.

But science was never just confined to metropolitan and civic sites and geared solely to didactic display. Country houses were also sites of experimental testing. And, as Donald Opitz shows (chapter 4), their influence continued to manifest itself in the early history of genetics in Britain during the decades around 1900. Attending to why this distinctive geography of experiment came to be cultivated and to the reasons behind William Bateson's enthusiasm for such a particular spatial formation as ideal for genetics research reinforces the value of thinking geographically about tests, trials, and experimentation and the particular nature of the performative sites wherein such things were conducted and evaluated.


Excerpted from GEOGRAPHIES OF NINETEENTH-CENTURY SCIENCE Copyright © 2011 by The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


1. Thinking Geographically About Nineteenth-Century Science

Part One: Sites and Scales

2. Refashioning the Spaces of London Science: Elite Epistemes in the Nineteenth Century

3.  The Status of Museums: Authority, Identity, and Material Culture

4. Cultivating Genetics in the Country: Whittingehame Lodge, Cambridge

5. 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

6. Islanded: Natural History in the British Colonization of Ceylon

Part Two: Practices and Performances

7. Placing Science in an Age of Oratory: Spaces of Scientific Speech in Mid-Victorian Edinburgh

8. Politics, Culture, and Human Origins: Geographies of Reading and Reputation in Nineteenth-Century Science 

9. Electricity and the Sociable Circulation of Fear and Fearlessness

10. “The ‘Crinoline’ of Our Steam Engineers”: Reinventing the Marine Compound Engine, 1850–1885

11. Expeditionary Science: Conflicts of Method in Mid-Nineteenth-Century Geographical Discovery

Part Three: Guides and Audiences

12. Pressed into Service: Specimens, Space, and Seeing in Botanical Practice

13. Science, Print, and Crossing Borders: Importing French Science Books into Britain, 1789–1815

14. Geological Mapping and the Geographies of Proprietorship in Nineteenth-Century Cornwall 

15. Natural History and the Victorian Tourist: From Landscapes to Rock-Pools

16. Place and Museum Space: The Smithsonian Institution, National Identity, and the American West, 1846–1896

Afterword: Putting the Geography of Science in Its Place


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