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W.D. Hamilton's theory of inclusive fitness saw the evolution of altruism from the point of view of the gene. It was at heart a theory of limits, redefining altruistic behaviours as ultimately selfish. This theory inspired two controversial texts published almost in tandem, E.O. Wilson's Sociobiology: The New Synthesis (1975) and Richard Dawkins's The Selfish Gene (1976). When Wilson and Dawkins were attacked for their evolutionary interpretations of human societies, they claimed a distinction between reporting what is and declaring what ought to be. Can the history of sociobiological theories be so easily separated from its sociopolitical context? This paper draws upon unpublished materials from the 1960s and early 1970s and documents some of the ways in which Hamilton saw his research as contributing to contemporary concerns. It pays special attention to the 1969 Man and Beast Smithsonian Institution symposium in order to explore the extent to which Hamilton intended his theory to be merely descriptive versus prescriptive. From this, we may see that Hamilton was deeply concerned about the political chaos he perceived in the world around him, and hoped to arrive at a level of self-understanding through science that could inform a new social order.
This paper explores the assimilation of the flightless dodo into early modern natural history. The dodo was first described by Dutch sailors landing on Mauritius in 1598, and became extinct in the 1680s or 1690s. Despite this brief period of encounter, the bird was a popular subject in natural-history works and a range of other genres. The dodo will be used here as a counterexample to the historical narratives of taxonomic crisis and abrupt shifts in natural history caused by exotic creatures coming to Europe. Though this bird had a bizarre form, early modern naturalists integrated the dodo and other flightless birds through several levels of conceptual categorization, including the geographical, morphological and symbolic. Naturalists such as Charles L'Ecluse produced a set of typical descriptive tropes that helped make up the European dodo. These long-lived images were used for a variety of symbolic purposes, demonstrated by the depiction of the Dutch East India enterprise in Willem Piso's 1658 publication. The case of the dodo shows that, far from there being a dramatic shift away from emblematics in the seventeenth century, the implicit symbolic roles attributed to exotic beasts by naturalists constructing them from scant information and specimens remained integral to natural history.
While the British Empire conventionally is recognized as a source of research subjects and objects in anthropology, and a site where anthropological expertise might inform public administration, the settler-colonial affiliations and experiences of many leading physical anthropologists could also directly shape theories of human variation, both physical and cultural. Antipodean anthropologists like Grafton Elliot Smith were pre-adapted to diffusionist models that explained cultural achievement in terms of the migration, contact and mixing of peoples. Trained in comparative methods, these fractious cosmopolitans also favoured a dynamic human biology, often emphasizing the heterogeneity and environmental plasticity of body form and function, and viewing fixed, static racial typologies and hierarchies sceptically. By following leading representatives of empire anatomy and physical anthropology, such as Elliot Smith and Frederic Wood Jones, around the globe, it is possible to recover the colonial entanglements and biases of interwar British anthropology, moving beyond a simple inventory of imperial sources, and crediting human biology and social anthropology not just as colonial sciences but as the sciences of itinerant colonials.
In 1761, George III commissioned a large group of philosophical instruments from the London instrument-maker George Adams. The purchase sprang from a complex plan of moral education devised for Prince George in the late 1750s by the third Earl of Bute. Bute's plan applied the philosophy of Frances Hutcheson, who placed ‘the culture of the heart’ at the foundation of moral education. To complement this affective development, Bute also acted on seventeenth-century arguments for the value of experimental philosophy and geometry as exercises that habituated the student to recognizing truth, and to pursuing it through long and difficult chains of reasoning. The instruments required for such exercise thus became tools for manipulating moral subjectivity. By the 1730s there was a variety of established modes in which the Newtonian philosophy might be used to argue for the legitimacy of Hanoverian rule. The education of George III represents a less recognized iteration of this relationship, concerned not with public apologetics, but rather with the transformation of an ‘indolent’ youth into a virtuous monarch.
Built in 1769 as a private observatory for King George III, Kew Observatory was taken over in 1842 by the British Association for the Advancement of Science (BAAS). It was then quickly transformed into what some claimed to be a ‘physical observatory’ of the sort proposed by John Herschel – an observatory that gathered data in a wide range of physical sciences, including geomagnetism and meteorology, rather than just astronomy. Yet this article argues that the institution which emerged in the 1840s was different in many ways from that envisaged by Herschel. It uses a chronological framework to show how, at every stage, the geophysicist and Royal Artillery officer Edward Sabine manipulated the project towards his own agenda: an independent observatory through which he could control the geomagnetic and meteorological research, including the ongoing ‘Magnetic Crusade’. The political machinations surrounding Kew Observatory, within the Royal Society and the BAAS, may help to illuminate the complex politics of science in early Victorian Britain, particularly the role of ‘scientific servicemen’ such as Sabine. Both the diversity of activities at Kew and the complexity of the observatory's origins make its study important in the context of the growing field of the ‘observatory sciences’.
Logbooks and sea charts may appear rather straightforward evidence to present at a naval court martial. However, their introduction into proceedings in the early nineteenth century reveals an important shift. Measuring the depth of water soon became a problem both of navigation and of discipline. Indeed, Captain Newcomb's knowledge of the soundings taken at the Battle of the Basque Roads proved crucial at Lord Gambier's court martial in June 1809. Through a case study of Edward Massey's sounding machine, this paper reveals the close connection between disciplinary practices on land and at sea. The Board of Longitude acted as a key intermediary in this respect. By studying land and sea together, this paper better explains the changing make-up of the British scientific instrument trade in this period. Massey is just one example of a range of new entrants, many of whom had little previous experience of the maritime world. More broadly, this paper emphasizes the role of both environmental history and material culture in the study of scientific instruments.
The Scopes trial (1925) fuelled discussion in the United States on the social and political implications of Darwinism. For the defenders of the 1925 Tennessee law – which prohibited the teaching of Darwinism in schools – Darwinism was, amongst other things, responsible for the German militarism which eventually led to the First World War. This view was supported by İsmail Fennî, a late Ottoman intellectual, who authored a book immediately after the trial which aimed to debunk scientific materialism. In it, he claimed that Darwinism blurred the distinction between man and beast and thus destroyed the foundations of morality. However, despite his anti-Darwinist stance, İsmail Fennî argued against laws forbidding the teaching of Darwinism in schools, and emphasized that even false theories contributed to scientific improvement. Indeed, because of his belief in science he claimed that Muslims should not reject Darwinism if it were supported by future scientific evidence. If this turned out to be the case, then religious interpretations should be revised accordingly. This article contributes to the literature on early Muslim reactions to Darwinism by examining the views of İsmail Fennî, which were notably sophisticated when compared with those of the anti-religious Darwinist and anti-Darwinist religious camps that dominated late Ottoman intellectual life.
Centring on John Flamsteed (1646–1719), the first Astronomer Royal, this paper investigates the ways in which astronomers of the late seventeenth century worked to build and maintain their reputations by demonstrating, for their peers and for posterity, their proficiency in managing visual technologies. By looking at his correspondence and by offering a graphic and textual analysis of the preface to his posthumous Historia Coelestis Britannica (1725), I argue that Flamsteed based the legitimacy of his life's work on his capacity to serve as a skilful astronomer who could coordinate the production and proper use of astronomical sighting instruments. Technological advances in astrometry were, for Flamsteed, a necessary but not a sufficient condition for the advancement of astronomy. Technological resources needed to be used by the right person. The work of the skilful astronomer was a necessary precondition for the mobilization and proper management of astronomical technologies. Flamsteed's understanding of the astronomer as a skilled actor importantly shifted the emphasis in precision astronomical work away from the individual observer's ability to see well and toward the astronomer's ability to ensure that instruments guaranteed accurate vision.
This article examines the history of two fields of enquiry in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Scotland: the rise and fall of the common sense school of philosophy and phrenology as presented in the works of George Combe. Although many previous historians have construed these histories as separate, indeed sometimes incommensurate, I propose that their paths were intertwined to a greater extent than has previously been given credit. The philosophy of common sense was a response to problems raised by Enlightenment thinkers, particularly David Hume, and spurred a theory of the mind and its mode of study. In order to succeed, or even to be considered a rival of these established understandings, phrenologists adapted their arguments for the sake of engaging in philosophical dispute. I argue that this debate contributed to the relative success of these groups: phrenology as a well-known historical subject, common sense now largely forgotten. Moreover, this history seeks to question the place of phrenology within the sciences of mind in nineteenth-century Britain.
Anthropological inquiry has often been considered an agent of intellectual secularization. Not least is this so in the sphere of religion, where anthropological accounts have often been taken to represent the triumph of naturalism. This metanarrative, however, fails to recognize that naturalistic explanations could sometimes be espoused for religious purposes and in defence of confessional creeds. This essay examines two late nineteenth-century figures – Alexander Winchell in the United States and William Robertson Smith in Britain – who found in anthropological analysis resources to bolster rather than undermine faith. In both cases these individuals found themselves on the receiving end of ecclesiastical censure and were dismissed from their positions at church-governed institutions. But their motivation was to vindicate divine revelation, in Winchell's case from the physical anthropology of human origins and in Smith's from the cultural anthropology of Semitic ritual.
A special interest in optics among various seventeenth-century painters living in the Dutch city of Delft has intrigued historians, including art historians, for a long time. Equally, the impressive career of the Delft microscopist Antoni van Leeuwenhoek has been studied by many historians of science. However, it has never been investigated who, at that time, had access to the mathematical and optical knowledge necessary for the impressive achievements of these Delft practitioners. We have tried to gain insight into Delft as a ‘node’ of optical knowledge by following the careers of three minor local figures in early seventeenth-century Delft. We argue that through their work, products, discussions in the vernacular and exchange of skills, rather than via learned publications, these practitioners constituted a foundation on which the later scientific and artistic achievements of other Delft citizens were built. Our Delft case demonstrates that these practitioners were not simple and isolated craftsmen; rather they were crucial components in a network of scholars, savants, painters and rich virtuosi. Decades before Vermeer made his masterworks, or Van Leeuwenhoek started his famous microscopic investigations, the intellectual atmosphere and artisanal knowledge in this city centred on optical topics.
This paper investigates Margaret Cavendish's characterization of experimental philosophers as hybrids of bears and men in her 1666 story The Description of a New World, Called the Blazing World. By associating experimental philosophers, in particular Robert Hooke and his microscope, with animals familiar to her readers from the sport of bear-baiting, Cavendish constructed an identity for the fellows of the Royal Society of London quite unlike that which they imagined for themselves. Recent scholarship has illustrated well how Cavendish's opposition to experimental philosophy is linked to her different natural-philosophical, political and anthropological ideas. My contribution to this literature is to examine the meanings both of bears in early modern England and of microscopes in experimental rhetoric, in order to illustrate the connection that Cavendish implies between the two. She parodied Hooke's idea that his microscope extended his limited human senses, and mocked his aim that by so doing he could produce useful knowledge. The bear-men reflect inhuman ambition and provide a caution against ignoring both the order of English society and the place of humans in nature.
The connections between science and civic culture in the Victorian period have been extensively, and intensively, investigated over the past several decades. Limited attention, however, has been paid to Irish urban contexts. Roman Catholic attitudes towards science in the nineteenth century have also been neglected beyond a rather restricted set of thinkers and topics. This paper is offered as a contribution to addressing these lacunae, and examines in detail the complexities involved in Catholic engagement with science in Victorian Belfast. The political and civic geographies of Catholic involvement in scientific discussions in a divided town are uncovered through an examination of five episodes in the unfolding history of Belfast's intellectual culture. The paper stresses the importance of attending to the particularities of local politics and scientific debate for understanding the complex realities of Catholic appropriations of science in a period and urban context profoundly shaped by competing political and religious factions. It also reflects more generally on how the Belfast story supplements and challenges scholarship on the historical relations between Catholicism and science.
The Constitution of Man by George Combe (1828) was probably the most influential phrenological work of the nineteenth century. It not only offered an exposition of the phrenological theory of the mind, but also presented Combe's vision of universal human progress through the inheritance of acquired mental attributes. In the decades before the publication of Darwin's Origin of Species, the Constitution was probably the single most important vehicle for the dissemination of naturalistic progressivism in the English-speaking world. Although there is a significant literature on the social and cultural context of phrenology, the role of heredity in Combe's thought has been less thoroughly explored, although both John van Wyhe and Victor L. Hilts have linked Combe's views on heredity with the transformist theories of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck. In this paper I examine the origin, nature and significance of his ideas and argue that Combe's hereditarianism was not directly related to Lamarckian transformism but formed part of a wider discourse on heredity in the early nineteenth century.
It is well known that Newtonian philosophers such as Johan T. Desaguliers defined their authority in contradistinction to the ‘projector’, a promoter of allegedly impractical and fraudulent schemes. Partly due to the lack of evidence, however, we know relatively little about these eighteenth-century projectors, especially those operating outside learned networks without claims to gentility, disinterest or theoretical sophistication. This paper begins to remedy this lacuna through the case of a ‘chymical’ projector, Moses Stringer (fl. 1693–1714). Instead of aspiring to respectability, this London chymist survived by vigorously promoting new projects, thereby accelerating, rather than attenuating, the course of action that rendered him dubious in the first place. The article follows his (often abortive) exploitation of medicine, metals and empire, and thereby illuminates the shady end of the enlightened world of public science.
BBC Television's Horizon series, fifty years old on 2 May 2014, despite its significance to the history of the public culture of science, has been little studied. This microhistorical account follows the gestation and early years of the programme, demonstrating how it established a social and cultural account of science. This was a result of televisual factors, notably the determination to follow the format of the successful arts television programme Monitor. It illuminates how the processes of television production, with a handful of key participants – Aubrey Singer, Gerald Leach, Philip Daly, Gordon Rattray Taylor, Ramsay Short, Michael Peacock and Robert Reid – established the format of the programme. This occurred over seventeen months of prior preparation followed by three troubled years of seeking to establish a stable form. This was finally achieved in 1967 when the programme adopted a film documentary approach after extended attempts at making it as a studio-based magazine programme. The story has implications for understanding the social accounts of science that were circulating in the key decade of the 1960s.
This paper argues that we should take into account the process of historical transmission to enrich our understanding of material culture. More specifically, I want to show how the rewriting of history and the invention of tradition impact material objects and our beliefs about them. I focus here on the transmission history of the mechanical calculator invented by the German savant Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. Leibniz repeatedly described his machine as functional and wonderfully useful, but in reality it was never finished and didn't fully work. Its internal structure also remained unknown. In 1879, however, the machine re-emerged and was reinvented as the origin of all later calculating machines based on the stepped drum, to protect the priority of the German Leibniz against the Frenchman Thomas de Colmar as the father of mechanical calculation. The calculator was later replicated to demonstrate that it could function ‘after all’, in an effort to deepen this narrative and further enhance Leibniz's computing acumen.
This article explores meteorological interest and experimentation in the early history of the Straits Settlements. It centres on the establishment of an observatory in 1840s Singapore and examines the channels that linked the observatory to a global community of scientists, colonial officers and a reading public. It will argue that, although the value of overseas meteorological investigation was recognized by the British government, investment was piecemeal and progress in the field often relied on the commitment and enthusiasm of individuals. In the Straits Settlements, as elsewhere, these individuals were drawn from military or medical backgrounds, rather than trained as dedicated scientists. Despite this, meteorology was increasingly recognized as of fundamental importance to imperial interests. Thus this article connects meteorology with the history of science and empire more fully and examines how research undertaken in British dependencies is revealing of the operation of transnational networks in the exchange of scientific knowledge.
The parasitic ichneumon fly, discovered by European natural philosophers in the seventeenth century, remained largely unstudied until it captured the attention of Enlightenment-era natural historians. Although this sudden surge of interest has been explained as an effort to understand the natural ‘evil’ of parasitism, the heyday of ichneumon studies was actually inspired by the political and agricultural context of late eighteenth-century Britain. British naturalists were captivated by this insect for reasons both philosophical and practical. In the providentially self-equilibrating qualities of ‘natural’ ichneumon economies, they saw solutions to political problems of famine, dearth, national wealth, governance and excess population, in addition to finding reassurance that Enlightened confidence in nature's inherent stability and fruitfulness was not unfounded.
The Peking Man fossils discovered at Zhoukoudian in north-east China in the 1920s and 1930s were some of the most extensive palaeoanthropological finds of the twentieth century. This article examines their publicization and discussion in Britain, where they were engaged with by some of the world's leading authorities in human evolution, and a media and public highly interested in human-origins research. This international link – simultaneously promoted by scientists in China and in Britain itself – reflected wider debates on international networks; the role of science in the modern world; and changing definitions of race, progress and human nature. This article illustrates how human-origins research was an important means of binding these areas together and presenting scientific work as simultaneously authoritative and credible, but also evoking mystery and adventurousness. Examining this illustrates important features of contemporary views of both science and human development, showing not only the complexities of contemporary regard for the international and public dynamics of scientific research, but wider concerns over human nature, which oscillated between optimistic notions of unity and progress and pessimistic ones of essential differences and misdirected development.