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George Howard Darwin and the ‘Public’ Understanding of Nature

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George Howard Darwin and the ‘Public’ Understanding of Nature

The Darwin family have been—and remain—one of the most famous families associated with the University of Cambridge. After giving an initial survey of the Darwin family’s connection to the University this talk examines the decades approaching 1900. This period represents the foundation of sustained connections between the Darwin family and Cambridge, with four of Charles Darwin’s children living in the town, two of whom were elected to senior positions within the university.

Concentrating on George Howard Darwin (1845–1912), Plumian Professor of Astronomy who purchased Newnham Grange, now Darwin College, in 1885, this talk gives the first account of his scientific work and attempts to adapt this for broader audiences. Darwin’s research relied on a sophisticated correspondence network extending across the British empire, gathering data to formulate his theories on the relationship between the tides and lunar motion. In the years around 1900 Darwin was invited to present on these matters in Europe, the United States and South Africa. Concentrating on the series of Lowell Lectures Darwin gave in Boston in 1897, this talk examines his attempts to adapt academic research for broader audiences, work that resulted in his only—and extremely successful—monograph The Tides and Kindred Phenomena of the Solar System (1898).

This talk is part of the Darwin College Humanities and Social Sciences Seminars series.

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