Science in the nineteenth-century periodical: an electronic index
Notes and Records of the Royal Society
Royal Society Publishing
In 1858 James Clerk Maxwell explained to his friend Lewis Campbell that ‘there are good books … with which people may be as delighted as Mary Anne was with Faraday's lecture, of which she gave an account to Punch’.1 Maxwell was referring to a recent article in the leading British comic weekly in which the fictional ‘Mary Ann’ had described her visit to the Royal Institution.2 Possessing a notorious penchant for witticisms, Maxwell was an obvious reader of Britain's leading comic weekly paper. However, the eminent Scottish physicist was one of many Victorian scientists whose regular diet of reading included Punch and many other non-scientific periodical titles such as The Times, the Pall Mall Gazette, and the Contemporary Review. His reference to Punch also illustrates the more significant point that general periodicals frequently contained references to scientific, technological and medical topics. Typically classified as ‘non-scientific’ publications and overlooked by many historians of science, general periodicals are increasingly being recognized by historians as crucial agents in shaping the scientific understanding of nineteenth-century reading publics. These publications often enjoyed circulations far exceeding those commanded by even the most successful scientific or technical journals of the century: compare, for example, Nature, with 5000 readers in 1870, with the 25 000 readers of the Wesleyan Methodist Magazine in the 1820s, the 60 000 of Punch in the early 1860s, and the 300 000 of the Review of Reviews in 1890.3 The hacks, vicars, jobbing artists and penurious scientific practitioners who discussed science in these periodicals may well, as Bernard Lightman has pointed out, have been more important than such professionalizers as T. H. Huxley and John Tyndall in shaping the public images of the sciences.
This is a post-print version of an article published in Notes and Records of the Royal Society. The definitive version is available at http://rsnr.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/59/3/317.full.pdf+html
Vol. 59 (3), pp. 317 - 318