Introduction: Science as Literature

in The Earth on Show

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print January 2008 | ISBN: 9780226616681
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226616704 | DOI:
Introduction: Science as Literature

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This introductory chapter first discusses how, in the early nineteenth century in Britain, the new science of geology was publicized in spectacular and theatrical forms that enabled it to gain the cultural authority it enjoys today. Performance was central to the public face of earth science. Its adherents pulled off an imaginative coup by giving their public tantalizing glimpses of an earth history far longer and stranger than the story of a literal six-day Creation which had held sway over much of that public at the turn of the century. This was no easy task. The new narrative had to compete not only with the Book of Genesis, but also with centuries of sacred-historical tradition, of which John Milton's epic poem of Creation and Fall, Paradise Lost (1667), was only the most prestigious expression. Rather than assaulting this potent body of narrative head-on, proponents of the new science turned it to their own ends, “justify[ing] the ways of God to men” by forging a new Creation-myth for an imperial age. Popularization took many forms, including lectures, exhibitions, and even custom-built geological museums. But it was in their literary productions—in books, journals, magazines, and newspapers—that these geologists and their followers reached most of their increasingly variegated public. This book aims to show how the truth-claims of public science have been supported by (and expressed within) structures that we are used to thinking of as fundamentally opposed to scientific procedure. By examining science as literature, rather than science and literature, it hopes to complicate some of the oppositions to which the latter duality has given rise.

Keywords: earth science; geology; performance; literary productions; geologists; Creation

Chapter.  12307 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of Science and Technology

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