Popular science in England, 1830-1870.

  • D. A. Hinton

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


By 1830, the notion of consciously popularising science had become manifest in the provision, throughout Britain, of numerous facilities intended to extend the accessibility of science to a general public which for the first time included the working classes. The aim of this thesis is to assess the impact of these facilities, and their relation to a growing popular awareness of science over four decades. The first four chapters raise underlying social historical aspects of the study, and establish some terminological distinctions which required to conduct the ensuing investigations. A consideration of the historiographical problems in focussing attention on popular science, in chapter 1, introduces the general method of investigation and a basic distinction between types of evidence. Chapter 2 identifies the extent to which science affected the working classes, and assesses the potential influence of popular science facilities. In chapter 3, attention is drawn to the neglected importance of fluctuating ideological factors, and in chapter 4 three distinct variants of an underlying improvement philosophy are recognised. The following five chapters treat the various media of popular science in turn, tracing their predominant concerns and changes in emphasis over the period. Chapter 5 deals with lectures and classes, bringing out distinctions between these oral media which are frequently blurred. Chapter 6 reviews different categories of popular science books and their changing emphases. Chapter 7 provides a quantitative analysis of the relative availability of scientific topics in books obtainable from selected institutional libraries, and chapter 8 makes a similar quantification of the science material in improvement journals, together with a discussion of changes in qualitative aspects of their science coverage. In chapter 9, some of the ways in which science impinged upon the pastimes of the common people are examined. The final chapter draws together the main conclusions from these empirical studies, relating them to the considerations raised earlier, and explains the importance of popular science in terms of its social influence and its contribution to the position of science in English culture.
Date of Award1979
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath

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