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British Journal for the History of Science

Jim Bennett
Nevil Maskelyne, the Cambridge-trained mathematician and later Astronomer Royal, was appointed by the Royal Society to observe the 1761 transit of Venus from the Atlantic island of St Helena, assisted by the mathematical practitioner Robert Waddington. Both had experience of measurement and computation within astronomy and they decided to put their outward and return voyages to a further use by trying out the method of finding longitude at sea by lunar distances. The manuscript and printed records they generated in this activity are complemented by the traditional logs and journals kept by the ships' officers...
February 13, 2019: British Journal for the History of Science
S V Weeks
The doctrine of idols is one of the most famous aspects of Bacon's thought. Yet his claim that the idols lead to madness has gone almost entirely unnoticed. This paper argues that Bacon's theory of idols underlies his diagnosis of the contemporary condition as one of 'universal madness'. In contrast to interpretations that locate his doctrine of error and recovery within the biblical narrative of the Fall, the present analysis focuses on the material and cultural sources of the mind's tendency towards error...
January 30, 2019: British Journal for the History of Science
Fabrizio Baldassarri
In this article, I argue that the French philosopher René Descartes was far more involved in the study of plants than has been generally recognized. We know that he did not include a botanical section in his natural philosophy, and sometimes he differentiated between plants and living bodies. His position was, moreover, characterized by a methodological rejection of the catalogues of plants. However, this paper reveals a significant trend in Descartes's naturalistic pursuits, starting from the end of 1637, whereby he became increasingly interested in plants...
January 30, 2019: British Journal for the History of Science
David Stack
Although often presented as an essential, ahistorical or innate psychological entity, the notion of a 'scientific mind' is ripe for historical analysis. The growing historical interest in the self-fashioning of masculine identities, and more particularly the self-fashioning of the nineteenth-century scientist, has opened up a space in which to probe what was understood by someone being said to possess a 'scientific mind'. This task is made all the more urgent by the recently revived interest of some psychologists in the concept and the highly gendered and culturally conditioned understanding of the scientific mind displayed in some contemporary debates...
January 29, 2019: British Journal for the History of Science
Xiaoxing Jin
Darwinian ideas were developed and radically transformed when they were transmitted to the alien intellectual background of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century China. The earliest references to Darwin in China appeared in the 1870s through the writings of Western missionaries who provided the Chinese with the earliest information on evolutionary doctrines. Meanwhile, Chinese ambassadors, literati and overseas students contributed to the dissemination of evolutionary ideas, with modest effect. The 'evolutionary sensation' in China was generated by the Chinese Spencerian Yan Fu's paraphrased translation and reformulation of Thomas Huxley's 1893 Romanes Lecture 'Evolution and ethics' and his 'Prolegomena'...
December 27, 2018: British Journal for the History of Science
H Floris Cohen
In his biography of Isaac Newton, which forms the most recent production in this flourishing genre, Niccolò Guicciardini states as his first point of departure that Newton's work arose not from 'attempts to answer questions that came to him spontaneously, but [from addressing] those posed by his contemporaries' (p. 20). Right he is to communicate to the larger audience for which he is writing this principal fruit of by now almost a century of professional history-of-science writing - a deep-seated awareness that every scientific view or finding, even if looking timeless in retrospect, has emerged from some given historical context that shows us where the scientist in question started, and that helps explain how, and in what direction, they managed to venture beyond the original context...
December 2018: British Journal for the History of Science
Katherine Parker
This paper will investigate how geographic features were recorded on maps in the eighteenth century in order to outline the construction of geographic knowledge by British mapmakers. Due to practical and economic factors, early modern cartography was a conservative practice based on source compilation and comparison. For the Pacific region especially, the paucity of first-hand observations and the conflicting nature of those observations rendered the world's largest ocean difficult to chart and prone to the retention of mythical continents, passages and islands...
December 2018: British Journal for the History of Science
Geoff Bil
This essay examines how Indo-Pacific indigenous plant names went from being viewed as instruments of botanical fieldwork, to being seen primarily as currency in anthropological studies. I trace this attitude to Alexander von Humboldt, who differentiated between indigenous phytonyms with merely local relevance to be used as philological data, and universally applicable Latin plant names. This way of using indigenous plant names underwrote a chauvinistic reading of cultural difference, and was therefore especially attractive to commentators lacking acquaintance with any indigenous language or culture...
December 2018: British Journal for the History of Science
Martin Mahony
This article engages with debates about the status and geographies of colonial science by arguing for the significance of meteorological knowledge making in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Mauritius. The article focuses on how tropical storms were imagined, theorized and anticipated by an isolated - but by no means peripheral - cast of meteorologists who positioned Mauritius as an important centre of calculation in an expanding infrastructure of maritime meteorology. Charles Meldrum in particular earned renown in the mid-nineteenth century for theoretical insights into cyclone behaviour and for achieving an unprecedented spatial reach in synoptic meteorology...
December 2018: British Journal for the History of Science
Dorit Brixius
One of France's colonial enterprises in the eighteenth century was to acclimatize nutmeg, native to the Maluku islands, in the French colony of Isle de France (today's Mauritius). Exploring the acclimatization of nutmeg as a practice, this paper reveals the practical challenges of transferring knowledge between Indo-Pacific islands in the second half of the eighteenth century. This essay will look at the process through which knowledge was created - including ruptures and fractures - as opposed to looking at the mere circulation of knowledge...
December 2018: British Journal for the History of Science
Genie Yoo
How did one man living on an island come to acquire information about the rest of the vast archipelago? This article traces the inter-island information networks of Georg Everhard Rumphius (1627-1702), an employee of the Dutch East India Company, who was able to explore the natural world of the wider archipelago without ever leaving the Moluccan island of Ambon. This article demonstrates the complexities of Rumphius's inter-island networks, as he collected information about plants and objects from islands near and far...
December 2018: British Journal for the History of Science
Sebestian Kroupa, Stephanie J Mawson, Dorit Brixius
This Introduction offers a conceptualization of the Indo-Pacific, its islands and their place within the history of science. We argue that Indo-Pacific islands present a remarkable combination of social, political and spatial circumstances, which speak to themes that are central to the history of science. Having driven movements of people and represented staging grounds for explorations, expansions and cross-cultural exchanges, these spaces have been at the forefront of historical change. The historiographies of the two oceans have traditionally emphasized indigenous agency while downplaying European historical trajectories, and therefore they provide historians of science with materials and methodologies that promise nuanced portrayals of knowledge production in cross-cultural settings...
December 2018: British Journal for the History of Science
Daniel Jon Mitchell
Academic careers in French science during the mid-nineteenth century were made within the Université de France, an integrated state system of secondary and higher education controlled by a centralized Parisian educational administration. Among the most respected members of the corps universitaire were Charles d'Almeida and Pierre Bertin, two historically obscure physiciens whose significance derives from their substantial contributions to the social organization, teaching and communication of French experimental physics...
September 2018: British Journal for the History of Science
Andrea Gambarotto
No abstract text is available yet for this article.
September 2018: British Journal for the History of Science
Hilary Buxton
In 1878, amid a rapidly proliferating social interest in public health and cleanliness, a group of sanitary scientists and reformers founded the Parkes Museum of Hygiene in central London. Dirt and contagion knew no social boundaries, and the Parkes's founders conceived of the museum as a dynamic space for all classes to better themselves and their environments. They promoted sanitary science through a variety of initiatives: exhibits of scientific, medical and architectural paraphernalia; product endorsements; and lectures and certificated courses in practical sanitation, food inspection and tropical hygiene...
September 2018: British Journal for the History of Science
Geoffrey Belknap
This paper examines how communities of naturalists in mid-nineteenth-century Britain were formed and solidified around the shared practices of public meetings, the publication and reading of periodicals, and the making and printing of images. By focusing on communities of naturalists and the sites of their communication, this article undermines the distinction between amateur and professional scientific practice. Building on the notion of imagined communities, this paper also shows that in some cases the editors and illustrators utilized imagery to construct a specifically British naturalist community...
September 2018: British Journal for the History of Science
Katharine Anderson
An unpublished satirical work, written c.1848-1854, provides fresh insight into the most famous scientific voyage of the nineteenth century. John Clunies Ross, settler of Cocos-Keeling - which HMS Beagle visited in April 1836 - felt that Robert FitzRoy and Charles Darwin had 'depreciated' the atoll on which he and his family had settled a decade earlier. Producing a mock 'supplement' to a new edition of FitzRoy's Narrative, Ross criticized their science and their casual appropriation of local knowledge. Ross's virtually unknown work is intriguing not only for its glimpse of the Beagle voyage, but also as a self-portrait of an imperial scientific reader...
September 2018: British Journal for the History of Science
Natasha Szuhan
Scientific and medical contraceptive standards are commonly believed to have begun with the advent of the oral contraceptive pill in the late 1950s. This article explains that in Britain contraceptive standards were imagined and implemented at least two decades earlier by the Family Planning Association, which sought to legitimize contraceptive methods, practice and provision through the foundation of the field of contraceptive science. This article charts the origins of the field, investigating the three methods the association devised and employed to achieve its goal of effecting contraceptive regulation...
September 2018: British Journal for the History of Science
Jim Endersby
The early decades of the twentieth century were marked by widespread optimism about biology and its ability to improve the world. A major catalyst for this enthusiasm was new theories about inheritance and evolution (particularly Hugo de Vries's mutation theory and Mendel's newly rediscovered ideas). In Britain and the USA particularly, an astonishingly diverse variety of writers (from elite scientists to journalists and writers of fiction) took up the task of interpreting these new biological ideas, using a wide range of genres to help their fellow citizens make sense of biology's promise...
September 2018: British Journal for the History of Science
Stephen M Davies
The 'Rothschild reforms' of the early 1970s established a new framework for the management of government-funded science. The subsequent dismantling of the Rothschild system for biomedical research and the return of funds to the Medical Research Council (MRC) in 1981 were a notable departure from this framework and ran contrary to the direction of national science policy. The exceptionalism of these measures was justified at the time with reference to the 'particular circumstances' of biomedical research. Conventional explanations for the reversal in biomedical research include the alleged greater competence and higher authority of the MRC, together with its claimed practical difficulties...
August 28, 2018: British Journal for the History of Science
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