Article

Science

Alice Jenkins

in Victorian Literature

ISBN: 9780199799558
Published online March 2011 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780199799558-0061
Science

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The study of literature and science does more than trace the “literature in science” and the “science in literature.” It problematizes the stability of the two fields as distinct types of knowledge and endeavor, and it explores the transformations that words and ideas undergo as they travel through the many different disciplines and genres that make up the totality of writing in given periods, locales, and networks. It is interdisciplinary not only in its subject matter but also in its methodology, drawing on material and techniques from a number of related fields, including history of science, cultural studies, philosophy of science, and history of the book. Victorian writing was a key focus of the scholarly works that are generally seen as among the foundational texts of literature and science studies, and since the publication of those works in the mid-1980s, the Victorian period has continued to attract a large proportion of the research in this field. One factor in this focus on Victorian writing has been the methodological success of the “one culture” model, which saw in 19th-century culture a unified intellectual context not yet fragmented by hard and fast disciplinary boundaries, and thus a particularly fertile ground for relationships between literature and science. Another factor in the field’s major focus on this period is its early and continuing interest in evolutionary science: Darwin and Darwinism have been extensively and immensely productively studied by literature and science scholars. In recent years, the influence of the “cultural turn” in the history of science and the rise of the history of the book have encouraged scholars working on 19th-century literature and science to give increasing attention to the period’s readers and reading practices, publishers and periodical presses, and interactions between writing and exhibitions, lectures, and other forms of entertainment and education. The methodologies developing to investigate these topics are updating and rethinking the “one culture” model, and are to some extent replacing it. One result is that the range of writers and genres that literature and science studies investigates is broadening and diversifying; another is that the boundaries of literature and science studies are becoming increasingly indistinct, as its characteristic interests and themes become more and more central to Victorian studies. Since the late 20th century “literature and science studies” have come to major prominence in the scholarship of Victorian culture. The extraordinary and lasting impact of some research published in the mid–1980s, together with the “cultural turn” taken by the history of science during roughly the same period, contributed to the production of an interdisciplinary field that not only traces the “literature in science” and “science in literature,” but also has often shown that traditional constructions of the two modes are inadequate. Within literature and science studies, the Victorian period in particular has been a key focus of scholarly attention, partly as a result of the enabling influence of the “one culture” model discussed here. Developed as an historical interpretation of the particular conditions of producing, disseminating, and consuming texts that held during much of the Victorian period, the one culture model’s methodological success and growing authority helped to make Victorian source material especially important for literature and science scholarship. Another reason for the field’s major focus on this period is its early, and continuing, interest in evolutionary science: Darwin and Darwinism have been extensively and immensely productively studied by scholars in this field.

Article.  10634 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century)

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