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Looking at the sky: the visual context of Victorian meteorology

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 October 2003

KATHARINE ANDERSON
Affiliation:
Science and Society programme, Division of Humanities, York University, 4700 Keele Street, Toronto, Ontario M3J 1P3, Canada.

Abstract

This article investigates visual methods in Victorian meteorology in the second half of the nineteenth century. While studies of visual representations in scientific work during this period have proliferated, there has been less attention paid to the relationships between scientific images and the broader visual culture in which they developed. Meteorology offers ideal ground for exploring visual culture and science, both because of the familiarity of the sky as an aesthetic subject, and because of the visual epistemology associated with popular forms of weather knowledge, called weather wisdom. Using examples from the study of clouds, especially the work of Charles Piazzi Smyth, the paper analyses the ways in which the challenges of meteorology raised questions about the nature of observation and precision. It concludes by suggesting that the broader context of Victorian visual culture must include the relationship of language and images, and traces those concerns in the history of cloud classification.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
© 2003 British Society for the History of Science

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Footnotes

For their close readings and helpful comments, I am indebted to two anonymous reviewers and to Bernard Lightman and Anne Secord. I am also grateful to the expertise of archivists at the Royal Observatory of Edinburgh, and for fruitful discussions about Smyth with Mary Brück and Simon Schaffer. Research at the Royal Observatory of Edinburgh was supported by a travel grant from Atkinson College in 1997, and by the hospitality of Mr and Mrs David Cawthra. I owe special thanks to Jane Insley at the Science Museum, London, for a demonstration of the rainband spectroscope.
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