Student the world could be explained by religion.

Student ID:
1859731The Making of Britain How did science
develop as a discipline over the nineteenth century in Britain? ”Evolutionary theories
were promoted, debated and rejected within nineteenth-century exhibitionary
show culture.”1
This quote introduces how science and its development aroused a great interest
throughout the nineteenth century society, among scientists but also among the larger
population. In fact, at the beginning of the century, people obeyed the Bible
and thought that the world could be explained by religion. But this way of
thinking faded away with the rise of science culture, especially with the much
debated evolutionary theories and what they involved. How did science develop
as a discipline over the nineteen century in Britain?
                This essay will explore
the divisions between men of science, but also how science established itself
in society and what the consequences were in terms of people’s interest.In eighteenth-century
Europe, the idea that the natural world was classified into a linear order of
perfection was widely spread. The inanimate world, fossils, plants, animals,
humans, celestial beings, and God, were thought as the ”Great Chain of
Being”.2
But the next century witnessed a shift in people’s way of thinking and
patriarchal values began to be questioned due to the rise of science,
especially evolutionary theories. As a consequence, the creationist myth was
threatened and it led to the division of men of science. On one side, the gentlemen
of science like George Airy, Charles Babbage or John Herschel, believed in a
divine order behind nature and society and thus could practice their activity
without threatening the Church.3
They dominated the science stage and helped to create the British Association
for the Advancement of Science (BAAS) in 1831.4
On the other side, the scientific naturalists like Charles Darwin, John Tyndall
or Grant Allen led by Thomas Henry Huxley, saw them as the representatives of
the old establishment: they wanted to challenge the Anglican authority as they thought
its gentlemanly favouritism was blocking the career of researchers.5
On the contrary, they allowed scientists to pursue their researches by saying
that religion belonged to the emotional area whereas science was part of the
world of intellect.6 The
extent of the disagreement between Anglicans and evolutionists could be summed
up by the heated exchange between Thomas Huxley and the bishop Samuel
Wilberforce, where the latter mocked the former about the idea that he was the
descendent of a monkey.7
Debates also occurred in other scientific areas like mathematics with Euclidean
geometry, but also in astronomy, physics, biology, psychology, and over the
practice of animal experimentation, in which the feminist and
anti-vivisectionist Frances Power Cobbe was extremely active.8
This large diversity of debates between gentlemen of science and scientific
naturalists helps to give us an idea of the rise of science at that time.
Although the latter were widely contested about their views on science and
culture, they were supported by literary figures like George Eliot and Thomas
Hardy who also recognized the importance of scientific knowledge; they joined
the literary realists to promote a culture shaped by science.9 In fact, the scientific naturalists often
alluded to literary figures, and their writings had a literary quality:
Darwin’s On the Origins of Species
used vivid literary images to communicate the ideas more easily. Reciprocally, Victorian
novelists used scientific imagery in their work10,
and that is how science in literature emerged. The example of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein of 1818 both shows the
emergence of science in British culture and the sort of fear that came with it.
Indeed, many pieces of work about science were in the horror genre, like Robert
Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr.
Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, for instance. The fact that it was published in 1886
shows how science had become popular throughout the century. Charles Dickens
was also widely read in the scientific literature because of his interest for
ghosts.11
From the mid-century, science became integral part of the culture, not only in
literature, but also in the newspapers. In fact, the satirical periodical Punch personified science as a goddess
and mocked the male doctors that would not let women enter the profession: it
made its readers consider the role of women in science, and promoted their
education.12 Science
spread really quickly in society thanks to the rapid expansion of the press and
to the journal Nature, which was
founded to celebrate and promote science.13
It enabled scientists to showcase their work and made the general public aware
of the advancement of science.14
Readers, as well as the general public, met at social gatherings where
scientific topics were discussed, like the anonymous piece of work Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation
of 1844 states: ”drawing rooms, libraries, churches, pubs, clubs and railway
carriages” were the places where one could have a discussion about
evolutionary theories.15
But it is obvious that it is only from the mid nineteenth century that
”science became part of a culturally sophisticated urban middle-class
identity”.16 Science and its
discoveries fascinated the general public, and it gradually appeared in plays,
musical acts, theatres, museums, and exhibitions. An evidence of this
increasing interest in science could be the natural history enthusiasm of the
1850s, and the fact that many people combed the beaches due to their
fascination for sea discoveries, followed by a fascination for dinosaurs and
extinct mammals.17
The Great Exhibition of 1851 welcomed 6M visitors, as it was there that they
could encounter theories of human evolution. In fact, Darwin’s Descent of Man failed to find the
missing link between monkey and man, and it became the focal point of
discussions: people wanted to know.18
Philosophers like Jean-Jacques Rousseau had looked for answers: in 1755, he
imagined a ”natural man”, between the savage and the civilized.19
From then, people claimed to have found the missing link. The ”What is it?”
show of 1860 by P.T. Barnum, that he had resurrected to make it coincide with
Darwin’s Origins of Species, was very
popular and featured an African-American who was said to be the ”connecting
link between humanity and brute creation”.20
Besides, the ethnologist Augustus H. Keane published a paper in Nature about Krao, a 7-year-old girl
covered with brown hair who was found in Laos. She was exhibited in many
countries before her status as the missing link was rationalized. But the fact
that the journal talked about her points out the importance of exhibitionary
culture in science.21
However, exhibitions struggled to conduct proper research, hence the apparition
of museums as a way to explain human evolution without needing a living
exemplar: relics became more important than the solitary instances of the
”missing link” and the public then became more interested in museums and
galleries of practical science.22The nineteenth century
hosted the rise of science and evolutionary theories that changed the
scientific landscape of Britain, which both fascinated and scared people. They challenged
the Church and some could not consider losing their belief in the creationist
myth, which is why scientists were divided over many subjects. But throughout
the century, science developed as a discipline and became part of the culture thanks
to its increasing apparition in literature as well as in the press, but also
thanks to the fascination for the human evolution which gave birth to
exhibitions, world fairs and museums.  

1 S. Qureshi ‘Dramas of development’
in B. Lightman and B. Zon (eds.), Evolution
and Victorian Culture, (Cambridge, 2014), pp. 261-280., p. 261.

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2 Ibid. p.265.

3 B. Lightman ‘Science and Culture’
in F. O’Gorman (eds.), The Cambridge
Companion to Victorian Culture, (Cambridge, 2010), pp. 12-39., p. 14.

4 Ibid. p. 14.

5 P. White, ‘Gentlemen of Science? Debates over Manners
and Institution’ in Thomas Huxley, Making the ”Man of Science”, (Cambridge,
2002), pp. 32-66, pp. 33-34.

6 B. Lightman ‘Science and
Culture’ in F. O’Gorman (eds.), The
Cambridge Companion to Victorian Culture, (Cambridge, 2010), pp. 12-39., p.
21.

7 Ibid. p. 32.

8 B. Lightman ‘Science and
Culture’ in F. O’Gorman (eds.), The
Cambridge Companion to Victorian Culture, (Cambridge, 2010), pp. 12-39., pp.
30-33.

9 Ibid. p.14, 29.

10 Ibid. pp. 23-24.

11 L. Herson, Culture and Science in the
Nineteenth-Century Media, (Aldershot, 2004), p. 113.

12 Ibid. pp. 22-23, p. 26.

13 Ibid. p. 57, 211.

14 Ibid. p. 212.

15 S. Qureshi ‘Dramas of
development’ in B. Lightman and B. Zon (eds.), Evolution and Victorian Culture, (Cambridge, 2014), pp. 261-280.,
p. 263.

16 B. Lightman ‘Science and
Culture’ in F. O’Gorman (eds.), The
Cambridge Companion to Victorian Culture, (Cambridge, 2010), pp. 12-39., p.
17.

17 Ibid. p. 15.

18 S. Qureshi ‘Dramas of
development’ in B. Lightman and B. Zon (eds.), Evolution and Victorian Culture, (Cambridge, 2014), pp. 261-280.,
pp. 266-269.

19 S. Qureshi ‘Dramas of
development’ in B. Lightman and B. Zon (eds.), Evolution and Victorian Culture, (Cambridge, 2014), pp. 261-280.,
p. 266.

20 Ibid. pp. 266-267.

21 Ibid. p. 269.

22 B. Lightman ‘Science and
Culture’ in F. O’Gorman (eds.), The
Cambridge Companion to Victorian Culture, (Cambridge, 2010), pp. 12-39., p.
15.