Bernard Lightman is professor of humanities at York University and president of the History of Science Society. Among his most recent publications are the edited collections Global Spencerism: The Communication and Appropriation of a British Evolutionist, A Companion to the History of Science, and Science Museums in Transition: Cultures of Display in Nineteenth-Century Britain and America (coedited with Carin Berkowitz). Lightman is also a general coeditor of The Correspondence of John Tyndall.
The nineteenth century witnessed a dramatic shift in the display and dissemination of natural knowledge across Britain and America, from private collections of miscellaneous artifacts and objects to public exhibitions and state-sponsored museums. The science museum as we know it—an institution of expert knowledge built to inform a lay public—was still very much in formation during this dynamic period. Science Museums in Transition provides a nuanced, comparative study of the diverse places and spaces in which science was displayed at a time when science and spectacle were still deeply intertwined; when leading naturalists, curators, and popular showmen were debating both how to display their knowledge and how and whether they should profit from scientific work; and when ideals of nationalism, class politics, and democracy were permeating the museum’s walls.
Contributors examine a constellation of people, spaces, display practices, experiences, and politics that worked not only to define the museum, but to shape public science and scientific knowledge. Taken together, the chapters in this volume span the Atlantic, exploring private and public museums, short and long-term exhibitions, and museums built for entertainment, education, and research, and in turn raise a host of important questions, about expertise, and about who speaks for nature and for history.
Physicist John Tyndall and his contemporaries were at the forefront of developing the cosmology of scientific naturalism during the Victorian period. They rejected all but physical laws as having any impact on the operations of human life and the universe. Contributors focus on the way Tyndall and his correspondents developed their ideas through letters, periodicals and scientific journals and challenge previously held assumptions about who gained authority, and how they attained and defended their position within the scientific community.