Academic journal article Transactions of the American Philosophical Society

Magnetic FEVER: Global Imperialism and Empiricism in the Nineteenth Century

Academic journal article Transactions of the American Philosophical Society

Magnetic FEVER: Global Imperialism and Empiricism in the Nineteenth Century

Article excerpt

Dedicated to my mother, Betty H. Carter

Without whom none of it would have been possible

And in memory of my father, Bobby R. Carter


In the nineteenth century, geophysics and empire building developed in tandem. As a result, empirical science could utilize the imperial structure to conduct research on a worldwide scale. Scientific motives for such studies included the need to confront both weaknesses in the inductive approach to science as well as the reality of new scientific fields that could only be studied globally. In Britain and the United States, the interaction of science and state allowed a range of geophysical projects to develop. In both countries, scientists had to find ways to overcome the difficulties that made their governments hesitant to support such ventures. In Britain, John Herschel and Edward Sabine provided a crucial connection between the philosophical, political and social elements that made this research possible. At Herschel's instigation, colonial observatories were added to the British venture for an Antarctic expedition known as the Magnetic Crusade, initiating a worldwide system of physical observatories conducting a coordinated series of continuous observations. The British system expanded to include new outposts in America as well as throughout the British domains. As a result, new sciences such as geomagnetism and meteorology developed more fully than they could have when only local observations were available, I argue that the empire provided a setting where universal science could be practiced and legitimized, helping both to overcome the inherited problems of the inductive method and setting up a system by which scientists could study interconnected phenomena on a global scale.


There are many people who assisted me at various stages in the production of this book and to whom I am indebted. First, I would like to thank my graduate advisor Seymour Mauskopf, for suggesting the original idea for this study and reading through countless drafts of chapters. I also thank the other members of my dissertation committee: Alex Roland, Cynthia Herrup (who suggested the title) and Michael McVaugh for their input and comments.

As the son of an archivist, I must acknowledge the people who helped me the most in finding the sources that I needed. The staff at the National Archives (formerly the Public Record Office) in Kew and the Manuscript Department at St. Andrews University Library were invaluable. Specifically, I must express my gratitude to Tara Wegner at the Harry Ransom Center in Austin, Solveig Berg at the Institutt for Teoretisk Astrofysikk in Oslo and Marc Rothenberg at the Smithsonian Institution for all of their help. Additionally, I am grateful to John Herschel-Shorland for kindly granting permission to copy materials from the Herschel archives.

Finally, I am thankful for the assistance of Mary McDonald of the American Philosophical Society and the anonymous reviewers of my manuscript for working with me on revisions of the text over the last two years.

List of Abbreviations

APS American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia

BL British Library Add.-Additional Manuscripts

DAB Dictionary of American Biography

DNB Dictionary of National Biography

DSB Dictionary of Scientific Biography

DU Duke University

FC Faraday Correspondence (James, ed.)

ITA Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics, Oslo

JHF Joseph Henry Papers (Rothenberg, ed.)

NLS National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh

FRO Public Record Office, London (now National Archives)

BJ1 - Kew Observatory Papers

BJ2 - Ross Papers

BJ3 - Sabine Papers

BJ7 - Fitzroy Papers

BJ9 - Meteorological Department Papers

RGO - Royal Greenwich Observatory Papers

RS Royal Society, London

HS - Herschel Papers

MM - Miscellaneous Manuscripts

Sa - Sabine Papers

Te - Terrestrial Magnetism Archive

SAUL St. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.