CONFERENCE: Empires of Science in the Long Nineteenth Century

From UCSD Science Studies Program (blog):

Empires of Science in the Long Nineteenth Century
9-10 April @ Huntington Library
Register by 2 April 2010

Empires of Science in the Long Nineteenth Century

This international conference explores the relationship during the long nineteenth century between rapidly developing science and technology and the expansion of territorial empires, exploring issues such as: How was science actually practiced on national and imperial frontiers? What role did science and technology play in the development of political and intellectual empires? What influence did governments and scientific institutions have in creating, regulating, and disseminating scientific research and practice within empire?

Friday, April 9, 2010
8:30 Registration & Coffee

9:30 Welcome Robert C. Ritchie (The Huntington)
Remarks Nigel Rigby (National Maritime Museum)

Session 1 Networks of Empire
Moderator: Nigel Rigby

Crosbie Smith (University of Kent)
Energies of Empire: The Making of Long Distance Ocean Steamships in the
mid-Nineteenth Century

John McAleer (National Maritime Museum)
Stargazers at the Worlds End: Observatories, Telescopes, and Views of
Empire in the Nineteenth-Century British World

12:00 Lunch

Session 2 Mapping Space
Moderator: Kathryn Olesko (Georgetown University)

John Rennie Short (University of Maryland, Baltimore County)
Cartographic Encounters on the Nineteenth-Century United States Western

Michael Reidy (Montana State University)
From Oceans to Mountains: The Spatial Construction of Empire

Session 3 Natural History
Moderator: Robert C. Ritchie

Janet Browne (Harvard University)
Nature on Display: Collecting and Showing Natural History Specimens in the
Age of Empire

Daniel Headrick (Roosevelt University)
Botany in the Dutch and British Colonial Empires

Saturday, April 10, 2010
9:00 Registration & Coffee

Session 4 Imperial Spaces
Moderator: Adam R. Shapiro (University of Wisconsin, Madison)

Daniela Bleichmar (University of Southern California)
Rediscovering the New World: Spanish Imperial Science, ca. 1780-1810

Lewis Pyenson (Western Michigan University)
Two Incarnations of Athena: Scientists in the Service of lebensraum in the
Nineteenth Century in the United States, Argentina, and Russia

12:00 Lunch

Session 5 Science and Colonial Identities
Moderator: Warren Dym (Bucknell University)

Saul Dubow (University of Sussex)
British Imperialism, Settler Colonialism, and Scientific Thought in the
Nineteenth-Century Cape

Lina del Castillo (Iowa State University)
The Gran Colombian Cartography Project, 1821-1830

Session 6 Institutions and Imperial Science
Moderator: Daniel Headrick

Rebekah Higgitt (National Maritime Museum)
Exporting Greenwich: The Royal Observatory as a Model for Imperial

Max Jones (University of Manchester)
Heroes of Empire? Geographical Societies, the Media, and the Promotion of


A few new Darwin articles

In Nature:

“Global Darwin: Revolutionary road”

James Pusey

Abstract In China, under the threat of Western imperialism, interpretations of Darwin’s ideas paved the way for Marx, Lenin and Mao, argues James Pusey in the third in our series on reactions to evolutionary theory.

[Global Darwin is a series in Nature, see this post for the first two entries]

In the Journal of the History of Biology:

“Darwin’s Sublime”: The Contest Between Reason and Imagination in On the Origin of Species”

Benjamin Sylvester Bradley

Abstract Recent Darwin scholarship has provided grounds for recognising the Origin as a literary as well as a scientific achievement. While Darwin was an acute observer, a gifted experimentalist and indefatigable theorist, this essay argues that it was also crucial to his impact that the Origin transcended the putative divide between the scientific and the literary. Analysis of Darwin’s development as a writer between his journal-keeping on HMS Beagle and his construction of the Origin argues the latter draws on the pattern of the Romantic or Kantian sublime. The Origin repeatedly uses strategies which challenge the natural-theological appeal to the imagination in conceiving nature. Darwin’s sublime coaches the Origin’s readers into a position from which to envision nature that reduces and contains its otherwise overwhelming complexity. As such, it was Darwin’s literary achievement that enabled him to fashion a new ‘habit of looking at things in a given way’ that is the centrepiece of the scientific revolution bearing his name.

In Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A:

“Between the Beagle and the barnacle: Darwin’s microscopy, 1837-1854”

Jardine Boris

Abstract The discovery of a small collection of Darwin manuscripts at the Whipple Museum of the History of Science (University of Cambridge) has allowed a reconsideration of Darwin’s interest in and knowledge of microscopy. Concentrating on the years between his return from the Beagle voyage and the publication of the major taxonomic work on barnacles, this paper recovers a number of important aspects of Darwin’s intellectual and practical development: on returning from the Beagle voyage he acquainted himself with the work of C. G. Ehrenberg, and this informed both his private and public work; then through the 1840s Darwin transformed himself from a fascinated observer and consumer of others’ work into an expert on microscopy. I characterise this move as a piece of clever manoeuvring, and discuss more generally the kind of scientist—gentlemanly and expert—that Darwin was attempting to become.

In Endeavour:

“Savage selection: analogy and elision in On the Origin of Species

D. Graham Burnett

Abstract Darwin famously built the ground-breaking argument of On the Origin of Species out of an analogy between artificial selection (‘breeding’) and what he called ‘nature’s power of selection’ – or, more famously, ‘natural selection’. For years, historians of science have debated the origins of this analogy and philosophers of science have disputed exactly how well it works. But is Darwin’s argument really an analogy? A closer look at what the world-travelling naturalist of the Beagle has to say about selection among ‘savages’ opens a more complicated story.

In Current Biology:

“Evolutionary history of the Falklands wolf”

Graham J. Slater, Olaf Thalmann, Jennifer A. Leonard, Rena M. Schweizer, Klaus-Peter Koepfli, John P. Pollinger, Nicolas J. Rawlence, Jeremy J. Austin, Alan Cooper and Robert K. Wayne

Abstract After visiting the Falkland Islands during the voyage of the Beagle, Charles Darwin remarked on the surprising presence of a wolf-like canid unique to the islands. One hundred and forty years after its extinction, the evolutionary relationships of this unusual canid remain unresolved. Here, we present a phylogenetic analysis based on nuclear and mtDNA sequence data from the extinct Falklands wolf and find that its closest extant relative is the South American maned wolf. Molecular dating analyses suggest that the Falklands wolf and several extant South American canid lineages likely evolved in North America, prior to the Great American Interchange. The Falklands wolf was the sole representative of a distinct South American canid lineage that survived the end-Pleistocene extinctions on an island refuge.

ARTICLE: “Capitalist Contexts for Darwinian Theory: Land, Finance, Industry and Empire”

A new article on Darwin (and Wallace) in the Journal of the History of Biology (online first):

M.J.S. Hodge, “Capitalist Contexts for Darwinian Theory: Land, Finance, Industry and Empire” Journal of the History of Biology (2009)

Jon Hodge, a historian of science, has recently co-edited The Cambridge Companion to Darwin (2nd. ed., 2009) with Gregory Radick, and authored Before and After Darwin (2008), and Darwin Studies (2009). Here is the abstract of the article:

When socio-economic contexts are sought for Darwin’s science, it is customary to turn to the Industrial Revolution. However, important issues about the long run of England’s capitalisms can only be recognised by taking a wider view than Industrial Revolution historiographies tend to engage. The role of land and finance capitalisms in the development of the empire is one such issue. If we historians of Darwin’s science allow ourselves a distinction between land and finance capitalisms on the one hand and industrial capitalism on the other; and if we ask with which side of this divide were Darwin and his theory of branching descent by natural selection aligned, then reflection on leading features of that theory, including its Malthusian elements, suggests that the answer is often and largely, though not exclusively: on the land side. The case of Wallace, socialist opponent of land capitalism, may not be as anomalous for this suggestion as one might at first think. Social and economic historians have reached no settled consensuses on the long-run of England’s capitalisms. We historians of Darwin’s science would do well to import some of these unsettled states of discussion into our own work over the years to come.

BOOK REVIEW: Jim Endersby’s ‘Imperial Nature’

Imperial Nature by Jim Endersby

Imperial Nature by Jim Endersby

Imperial Nature: Joseph Hooker and the Practices of Victorian Science. By Jim Endersby. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008. xii + 429 pp. Acknowledgments, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index,. $35.00 (cloth).

In Pamela Smith’s The Body and the Artisan, we are asked to reconsider assumptions we hold about the Scientific Revolution: that it was a radical change in the acquiring of knowledge about the natural world, and that through texts and experimentation, natural philosophers in Italy and England led the way. For Smith, however, it was within a different place and among different actors that the “Scientific Revolution” actually got its start: artisans, not natural philosophers, in the Lower countries and Germany, not Italy and England, structured their desire to know about the natural world through physical experience, not books, to claim the superiority of embodied knowledge [1]. Those figures commonly associated with the Scientific Revolution, such as Francis Bacon, took up the artisans’ epistemological methodology.

This decentering of geographic origins and deemphasizing the role of iconic figures in the history of science has recently became a new analytical tool that has turned upside down long held notions of science as a progressive and strictly Western process. In Imperial Nature, historian of science Jim Endersby asks similar questions about Victorian science. Is it strictly something pouring out of Britain to the rest of the world? Is it run only by iconic men of science? Is the nineteenth century a period that is best understood only as split into pre- and post-Darwinian? Is the primary characteristic of Victorian science the push for professionalization within different disciplines? Endersby, probably more than any other historian working today, has an abiding fondness for Joseph Dalton Hooker. An online resource about Hooker that Endersby put together testifies to this claim (, as does the many articles he has published in a variety of journals. But Endersby does more than just inform others about Hooker. Imperial Nature, based on Endersby’s Ph.D. dissertation, analyzes Hooker’s career as a nineteenth-century botanist to reconsider common yet clichéd themes in thinking about Victorian science: “the reception of Darwinism, the consequences of empire, and the emergence of a scientific profession” (3).

Important to Endersby, as the subtitle stresses, is an understanding of the practices of nineteenth-century botany, the minutiae of everyday “doing.” This structures his narrative, as each chapter focuses on a particular practice: Traveling, Collecting, Corresponding, Seeing, Classifying, Settling, Publishing, Charting, Associating, and Governing. Some chapters are more engaging than others, particularly the first five and “Charting.” According to Endersby, “a focus on practice serves to overcome a long-standing historiographical tendency to divide the factors and influences that shape science into those which are internal to science (such as objectivity and careful experimentation) and those which lie outside (e.g., political, religious, and economic factors)” (313). Looking at practice – what naturalists and collectors were doing rather than focusing on their ideas that developed – helps us to understand a complexity of issues at work.

Reading through Imperial Nature, Endersby diverts Hooker’s links to Darwin to the conclusion. The impression given is that he does not want his Hooker book, truly a labour of love, to become a Darwin book, as 2008 and 2009 have been flooded with many new works, covering many disciplines beyond science, about Darwin. “I have deliberately chosen to keep Darwin in the background,” Endersby states in the conclusion (316). Darwin’s story is well known, while those of his contemporaries, Hooker included, are not. Yet the conclusion becomes the place for Endersby to bring Darwin in and analyze Hooker’s and other Victorian naturalists’ careers in relation to the “species question.” Endersby argues that it is not the question of whether or not species evolved that was central to Victorian science (we are all familiar with the pre-/post-Darwinian, pre-/post-Origin, pre-/post-1858 markers), but the question of whether or not species were stable in nature. For Hooker, to accept Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection was not to become a supporter of transmutation (Endersby argues that natural selection hardly changed the ways naturalists did their work), but to recognize the value of natural selection as a theoretical tool to the practice of botany. Natural selection gave Hooker a way to combat those aspiring botanists who tended to claim many species of plants where Hooker saw one of a few. This tension between “lumpers” and “splitters” in botanical classification helped to shape much more than Hooker’s eventual support for Darwin (Endersby also explores debates around whether or not Hooker actually accepted Darwin’s theory).

The lumper/splitter dichotomy was best explained by the imperial context of nineteenth-century botany. Colonial botanists collected plants and sent them back to metropolitan botanists, such as Hooker. Economic botany – understanding what plants are where and how best they can be utilized as natural resources – was important to imperialism. Endersby, however, stresses that colonial botanists – such as William Colenso and Ronald Gunn – were not simply passive servants of more powerful botanists in London and at Kew Gardens specifically. Colonial botanists held some autonomy, using their rare positions as skilled collectors in far away places to further their own agendas, whether aspiring to be better botanists or better gentlemen. A constant through Hooker’s career is dealing with colonial botanists and their willingness to agree (or not) to his methods. For Hooker, the colonial botanist should simply collect and send specimens back to the center, while not speculating on theoretical or philosophical matters, such as transmutation, naming, or distribution. To further their own goals, however, colonial botanists did speculate beyond collecting. They tended to be splitters: having more local knowledge of plant varieties in a given location, colonial botanists argued for more distinct species. They wanted to emphasize the diverse floras of the regions they represented while asserting the authority of their local knowledge and in situ experience (they often found European botanical books inadequate). Metropolitan naturalists, on the other hand, minimized the number of species for several reasons. Hooker, as did other metropolitan botanists, constructed herbariums, collections of dried plant specimens ordered by hierarchies of classification and managed within specially built cabinets in drawers with folders. Managing an herbarium became a daunting task as colonial botanists sent in this and that new species of orchid or liverwort. Keeping the number of species to a minimum not only maintained a metropolitan botanist’s authority over peripheral subordinates, but helped in maintaining the physical herbarium (in itself a microcosm of the botanical world). Hooker’s broad species concept – that many species across the globe are more generally varieties of a species with a broad geographic range – also required broader collections. Arguing against splitters was, in a way, related to the demand for more publicly funded scientific positions to build public funded collections.

Colonial botanists, Endersby persuasively argues, were not passive recipients of metropolitan scientific knowledge. “The result was not a one-way flow of plants or authority from periphery to center but a complex negotiation in which each side bartered its assets according to its interests and in the process defined who was central or peripheral and why” (110). Men like Hooker, Darwin, and Huxley depended on colonial botanists. Without their collections, whether botanical or zoological, these “men of science” could hardly have accomplished their work. In turn, their work, is not something to be considered as meaning the same thing in different regions. As Endersby effectively shows, the meanings of botanical illustrations and botanical classifications (think of Bruno Latour’s “immutable mobiles”) did not necessarily transfer from one location to another and hold their intended meanings.

Endersby’s time in the archives is apparent. He uses a wealth of primary documents – letters and papers mainly – that are representative of the “centers” and “peripheries” of his story: America, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand. The subsections of many chapters in the book testify to his use of primary documents as well, as they are titled using quotes taken from these documents.

Imperial Nature, a reassessment of Victorian science seen through the career of a botanist bent on heightening the status of his discipline to be among geology and astronomy by claiming it “philosophical” and not an amateur pursuit (Hooker made his living from botany), will interest historians of Victorian science, biology (whether of botany, taxonomy, or evolution specifically), biogeography, imperialism, and even those who study the role of objects in history (chapter 2, “Collecting”). This is not a biographical treatment of Hooker (see Ray Desmond’s Joseph Dalton Hooker: Traveller and Plant Collector). Endersby has made a valuable contribution to several historical disciplines, showing how telling history entrenched in –isms (colonialism, professionalism, Darwinism) is detrimental to a proper understanding of Victorian science.

1. Pamela H. Smith, The Body of the Artisan: Art and Experience in the Scientific Revolution (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004).

CONFERENCE: In the wake of the Beagle

From the Australian National Maritime Museum:

In the wake of the Beagle – Science in the southern oceans from the age of Darwin

Start Date: 20 March 2009

End Date: 21 March 2009

A major symposium in conjunction with the Australian National Maritime Museum’s exhibition Charles Darwin – Voyages and ideas that shook the world. Internationally acclaimed speakers provide new insights into the world of collecting, surveying and cross-cultural exchange in the antipodes in the age of Darwin and take a modern look at Darwin and his contemporaries’ influence on today’s cutting-edge scientific research.


“For a small ten-gun brig belonging to what sailors wryly called the ‘coffin class’, HMS Beagle has created the largest wake of any ship in history.”
Professor lain McCalman
Strange as it may seem, the long wake of HMS Beagle stretches from the nineteenth century into the future of our globe. Charles Darwin spent only three months in Australia, but Australasia and the Pacific contributed to his evolutionary thinking in a variety of ways. One hundred and fifty years after the publication of On the Origin of Species and on the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth, the museum is proud to present In the Wake of the Beagle – a celebratory symposium of internationally acclaimed speakers providing new insights into the world of collecting, surveying and cross-cultural exchange in the antipodes in the age of Darwin.

They explore the groundbreaking work of Darwin and his contemporaries Joseph Hooker, Thomas Huxley and Alfred Wallace, shed light on their interaction with the region’s indigenous voyagers, and take a very modern look at the naturalists’ influence on today’s cutting-edge scientific research, at a time when global warming has raised

This conference has been made possible thanks to the support of an Australian Research Council Linkage Grant, Seeing Change: Science, Culture and Technology in the Antipodes from the age of Darwin.


Dr Chris Ballard, Fellow Division of Pacific & Asian History, Australian National University;

Mike Bluett Producer, Becker Group;

Dr Lissant Bolton, Senior Curator Oceania, British Museum;

Dr John Collee, novelist and screenwriter;

Dr Jim Endersby, Sussex University;

Dr Nigel Erskine, Curator, Australian National Maritime Museum;

Mr Julian Holland, researcher and former curator;

Dugald Jellie, travel writer, The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald;

Sophie Jensen, Senior Curator, National Museum of Australia;

Prof. lain McCalman, University of Sydney;

Richard Neville, Mitchell Librarian, State Library of NSW;

Prof. Frank Nicholas, Animal Genetics, University of Sydney;

Dr Jude Philp, Senior Curator, Macleay Museum;

Paul White, Dept. of History & Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge;

Dr Kate Wilson, Director, Wealth from Oceans National Research Flagship, CSlRO

2-Day registration $50, ANMM Members or students $30
1-day registration $25, ANMM Members or students $15

Download the registration form In the wake of the Beagle – Science in the southern oceans from the age of Darwin Symposium%20registration%20form%20to%20download (609 kb)

For further information contact the members office on (02) 9298 3644