Science Serialized: Representation of the Sciences in Nineteenth-Century Periodicals

By Riechert, Bonnie Parnell | Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, Winter 2005 | Go to article overview

Science Serialized: Representation of the Sciences in Nineteenth-Century Periodicals


Riechert, Bonnie Parnell, Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly


* Science Serialized: Representation of the Sciences in Nineteenth-Century Periodicals. Geoffrey Cantor and Sally Shuttleworth, eds. Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2004. 358 pp. $40.00 hbk.

Science historians and others will welcome this interesting collection of scholarly essays on the portrayal of science in British magazines in the 1800s. Indeed, mass communication scholars interested in the historical role of periodicals in society will find this volume informative, and anyone interested in Victorian life and times will enjoy this work.

The theme of the book is advanced by editors Sally Shuttleworth and Geoffrey Cantor in the introductory chapter. "Periodicals were not passive conveyors of scientific information but active ingredients in the ferment of science," they state. The discourse of science took shape "through the flux and collision of viewpoints expressed in the periodical press."

This argument is well supported in chapters examining the content of Victorian periodicals on topics ranging from botany in women's magazines, science and theology, physiological psychology, popularity of experiments on hybrid crossing, and controversies related to the writings of John Tyndall, Grant Alien, W. K. Clifford, Samuel Butler, Thomas Henry Huxley, Charles Darwin, and others. The book includes fourteen chapters by sixteen scholars from institutions in Britain, Canada, and the United States.

It was in the periodicals, from Academy to Wesleyan Methodist Magazine, that scientists published their ideas and others reacted to them. After all, at the dawning of the 1800s, scientific disciplinary boundaries were not yet drawn, academic journals were not yet common, and the word "scientist" was not yet even coined. (Until William Whewell suggested the term in the 1830s, it was "natural philosophers" who studied science of the natural world.)

Not only did the periodicals provide communication between scientists and the lay public; contributor Roger Smith describes the function of the nineteenth century periodical in providing communication among scientists, a function that "academic journals later took over." Chapter author Frank A. J. L. James dates the rise of the specialized weekly scientific press from the birth of The Chemical News in 1857 and continuing into the 1860s.

According to the editors, periodicals "are by nature more open and multi-vocal than books" and "played a crucial role in the development of scientific thought itself." Periodicals capture cultural history, observed contributor Ann B. Shteir. "Because they are particularly subject to fashion and modulations in audience tastes, magazines may register these changing cultural conversations even more clearly than books."

A chapter by Crosbie Smith and Ian Higginson is devoted to discussion of periodicals in North America, including North American Review (begun in 1815), Harper's New Monthly Magazine (begun in 1850), Atlantic Monthly (begun in 1857), and Scribner's Monthly (begun in 1870). …

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