A Brief Word on Nineteenth-Century Periodicals

Interrupting the flow of my synopsis of Dixon’s et al. Science and Religion: New Historical Perspectives, I want to briefly share some exciting research prospects.

I have been burying myself in recent weeks in literature on the popularization of science and the circulation of periodicals and newspapers in nineteenth-century Britain. A number of scholars have been at the forefront of this kind of research. Books of significant import include James A. Secord’s Victorian Sensations: The Extraordinary Publication, Reception, and Secret Authorship of Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation (2000), Bernard Lightman’s Victorian Popularizers of Science: Designing Nature for New Audiences (2007), and an anthology of scientific and literary material edited by Laura Otis, Literature and Science in the Nineteenth Century (2002). Other edited works include Geoffrey Cantor, Gowan Dawson, Graeme Goody, Richard Noakes, Sally Shuttleworth, and Jonathan R. Topham’s Science in the Nineteenth-Century Periodical: Reading the Magazine of Nature (2004); Louise Henson, Geoffrey Cantor, Gowan Dawson, Richard Noakes, Sally Shuttleworth, and Jonathan R. Topham’s Culture and Science in the Nineteenth-Century Media (2004); and Geoffrey Cantor and Sally Shuttleworth’s Science Serialized: Representation of the Sciences in the Nineteenth-Century Periodical Press (2004). Also very enlightening are Bernard Lightman’s Victorian Science in Context (1997),  Aileen Fyfe and Barnard Lightman’s Science in the Marketplace: Nineteenth-Century Sites and Experiences (2007), and David N. Livingstone and Charles W.J. Withers’ Geographies of Nineteenth-Century Science (2011).

Important antecedents to this more recent surge in periodical research are found in J. Donn Vann and Rosemary T. VanArsdel’s Victorian Periodicals and Victorian Society (1994), Alvar Ellegard’s Darwin and the General Reader: The Reception of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution in the British Periodical Press, 1859-1872 (1990), John Christie and Sally Shuttleworth’s Nature Transfigured: Science and Literature, 1700-1900 (1989), George Levine’s Darwin and the Novelists: Patterns of Science in Victorian Fiction (1988), Sally Shuttleworth’s George Eliot and Ninteenth-Century Science: The Make-Believe of a Beginning (1984), and Gillian Beer’s Darwin’s Plots: Evolutionary Narrative in Darwin, George Eliot and Nineteenth-Century Fiction (1983). The work of such scholars show how numerous literary writers of the nineteenth century actively engaged with scientific themes in essays, novels, and poems. But they also show, according to Otis, how numerous scientific writers were also “imaginative writers,” depicting the world “imaginatively so that they could draw inferences about invisible phenomena based on observable effects.”

Included in this list are a host of articles and essays published in various academic journals. The Special Section of the 2000 issue of The British Journal for the History of Science contains essays exploring historical encounters of readers with printed matter, books, newspapers, magazines, almanacs, tracts, pamphlets and so on. Essayists include Jonathan R. Topham, “Book History and the Sciences”; Adrian Johns, “Miscellaneous Methods: Authors, Societies, and Journals in Early Modern England”; Leslie Howsam, “An Experiment with Science for the Nineteenth-Century Book Trade: The International Scientific Series”; and Nicolaas Rupke, “Translation Studies in the History of Science: The Example of Vestiges.” The nineteenth century is a field I am not particularly familiar with, so another essay by Jonathan R. Topham, “Scientific Publishing and the Reading of Science in Nineteenth-Century Britain: A Historiographical Survey and Guide to Sources,” published in Studies in History and Philosophy of Science (2000) has become an invaluable source.

More recently, James Secord’s astutely titled review essay, “The Electronic Harvest,” in The British Journal for the History of Science (2005) shows how “a digital scanner linked to optical character recognition software is the combine harvester of twenty-first century scholarship,” which has, in a few short years, reaped “electronically the results of centuries of literary production.” In 1999, the Division of History and Philosophy of Science in the University of Leeds and the Department of English Literature in the University of Sheffield, and under the guidance of Geoffrey Cantor and Sally Shuttleworth, initiated the Science in Nineteenth-Century Periodical project, known commonly as “SciPer.” The project’s aim “has been to analyse the representation of science, technology, and medicine, as well as the inter-penetration of science and literature, in the general periodical press in Britain between 1800 and 1900.” The project’s prodigious electronic index includes thousands of periodicals of nineteenth-century Britain: Youth’s Magazine, Nineteenth Century, Westminster, Quarterly, Fortnightly, Edinburgh Reviews, Cornhill Magazine, Illustrated London News, Punch, Comic Annual, Mirror of Literature, Review of Reviews, Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine, Wesleyan-Methodist Magazine, Nature, North American Review, All the Year Round, Friend, Dublin Penny Journal, Evangelical Magazine, Contemporary Review, Philosophical Magazine, Philosophical Transactions, and much, much more. Other extremely helpful electronic indexes include Poole’s Index to Periodical Literature, 1802-1906 and the well-known Wellesley Index of Victorian Periodicals, 1824-1900.

“Periodicals,” write Dawson and Topham, “represent some of the most significant material and cultural forms through which the sciences were communicated and debated in the Victorian period.” Studying the intertextual field afforded by nineteenth-century periodicals will hopefully yield a better understanding of science-religion relations in that century and, more importantly for my own research, the origin, definition, and dissemination of the conflict narrative between the two.

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