“Natural Philosophy for the Novice: Popularization and Print Culture in the Long Eighteenth Century”
In 1826, Henry, Lord Brougham formed the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge with the intent of distributing affordable and accessible scientific texts to readers across class boundaries. The foundation of this organization was the result of more than a century of popularizing endeavors across nearly all print genres, including, but not limited to, translation, conversations, lectures, textbooks, children’s books, periodicals, illustrations, and epistolary works. Yet what role did such publications actually play in the dissemination and consumption of scientific content? How do these different genres of popularizing texts serve different purposes and populations? How did the aims of popularizing science reflect the shifting intellectual values of the eighteenth century? Barbara Gates suggests that critics should “treat popular science as its own form of knowledge, shaped in relation to the needs of audiences beyond elite and learned culture,” a move that enables scholars to begin to answer these and other questions. Indeed, such popularizing texts – from Bernard de Fontenelle’s Entretiens sur la Pluralité des Mondes to Margaret Bryan’s A Compendious System of Astronomy – have yet to be fully explored within the locus of literary science studies, leaving a number of additional exciting and potentially fruitful issues open for debate:
- What role did the commercial marketplace play in the production and distribution of popularizing texts?
-What role, if any, did gender play in the production and consumption of these texts?
-What is the relationship between popularizing texts and professional texts?
-What is the relationship between discipline and mode of popularization?