12 July 2018

Review: Science in Victorian Manchester by Robert H. Kargon

Hardcover, 283 pages
Published 1977
Borrowed from my advisor
Read June 2017
Science in Victorian Manchester: Enterprise and Expertise
by Robert H. Kargon

This monograph chronicles the growth and development of various scientific institutions in Manchester across the nineteenth century, in particular scientific societies, scientific reform movements, and Owens College. Kargon is not a very lively writer, and he is not always very good at making a story emerge from the deluge of very well researched facts the book is filled with: who did what about membership in what society when, who took what post when and what were they paid, who proposed what building at what meeting. I found myself skimming a lot, even for an academic monograph.

That said, Kargon's claim that Victorian Manchester is a good case study for the changes in science that occurred in the nineteenth century is proven true, as the book tracks the emergence of professionalism and disciplinarity, the ways that class interacted with the institutions of science, and how science was employed in the pursuit of both reform and capitalism/industry. I found his concept of the scientific "devotee" a useful one: Kargon distinguishes between those amateur men of science for whom science was simply one of many interests (dilettantes), and those who dedicated themselves to science as a cause and a way of seeing, paving the way for professional scientists. The devotee began to supplant the dilettante in the 1840s, and was himself supplanted in the 1890s, because once science was professionalized, there were good reasons to engage in it that were not devotion (i.e., you could make money), a phenomenon I have seen explored in novels such as George Gissing's Born in Exile (1892) and H. G. Wells's Marriage (1912). I hadn't seen anyone distinguish beyond the types of amateurs this way before, and like the best classifications, it made clear to me something I had not seen before.

(I read the original 1977 edition; the book was reprinted in 2009 with a new introduction by Kargon, but according to Amazon, no other changes.)

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