Scientific naturalists and the government of the Royal Society 1850-1900

Harrison, Andrew John (1989). Scientific naturalists and the government of the Royal Society 1850-1900. PhD thesis The Open University.



The everyday life of the Royal Society in the second half of the nineteenth century is a largely unworked field within the history of Victorian science. As the principal forum for English science, the Royal Society was a crucial context for' the working out of the major changes in science over the period. The Society made its own singular responses to the developing needs of science for funds to support increasingly expensive researches, and for a more efficient means of publication for the growing number of active workers. These aspects are dealt with at length in the first section.

The image of science which was held to by some of its leading practitioners and organisers is very significant in tracing the developing tensions within Victorian science. This led to a widespread sensitivity to any commercial or political involvements on the part of prominent men of science, which might have seemed to compromise their disinterestedness. An area which is very revealing of many characteristic modes of thought entertained by Victorian men of' science, is the evaluation of' scientific performance. Enshrined in the refereeing procedures of the Royal Society, this process provides many insights into the contemporary meaning of the issues of the day.

For a long period following 1870 the government of the Royal Society was in the hand of the group of scientific naturalists who surrounded Thomas Huxley. Their personal ambitions and energetic support of the cause of' scientific naturalism contributed to an extremely vigourous phase of the Royal Society's history. A detailed coverage is provided of the spectacular rise and surprisingly rapid decline of the power and influence of this group in this focal point of Victorian science.

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