Bodies of Knowledge: Science, Medicine and Authority in Popular Periodicals, 1832-1850
Furlong, Claire Rosemary
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Reason for embargo
To publish first in monograph form.
Over the course of the 1830s and 1840s, a professional scientific and medical community was coming into being. Exclusive membership, limits to the definition of science, and separation of the professional from the popular sphere became important elements in the consolidation of scientific authority. Studies exploring Victorian scientific authority have tended to focus on professional journals and organs of middle-class culture; this thesis takes a new approach in exploring how this authority is reflected and negotiated across the content of the popular mass-market periodicals which provided leisure reading for working- and lower-class men and women. It uses as examples Chambers’s Edinburgh Journal, Reynolds’s Miscellany and the Family Herald. The readers of these publications were consumers of scientific information, participants in popularised science and beneficiaries and subjects of new research, but were increasingly excluded from the formal processes of developing scientific theory and practice. Examining representations of anatomy and of mesmerism, health advice and theories of class and gender, the thesis argues for an expanded understanding of mass-market periodicals as communicators of scientific ideas, showing how such material widely informs the content of these publications from fiction to jokes to full-length factual articles. However, the role of the periodicals is much wider than simply the transmission of received ideas, and the thesis reveals a plurality of positions with regard to science and medicine within the popular press. The periodicals engage with modern science in complex and varied ways, accepting, modifying and challenging scientific theories and methods from different positions. The form of the periodical is key, presenting multiple sources of knowledge and ways in which readers may be invited to respond. Chambers’s broad support for scientific progress is informed by its useful knowledge identity but tempered by its founding editors’ own ambivalent relationship to the scientific establishment. The Herald, influenced by both the periodical’s commercial character and its editor’s adherence to a spiritual, anti-materialist view of existence, is strongly resistant to modern science, while Reynolds’s incorporates it alongside other forms of knowledge in its aim to educate, entertain and empower readers from a socialist perspective.
Arts and Humanities Research Council
PhD in English