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Learning things: the objects of familiar science in nineteenth-century Britain

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‘To many a Royal Society, the Creation of a World is little more mysterious than the cooking of a Dumpling’ – Thomas Carlyle, Sartor Resartus (1838).

The use of familiar objects as both physical didactic devices and literary pedagogic analogies was particularly prevalent and powerful in nineteenth-century science education. Candles and cups of tea, pebbles and primroses, salt and see-saws were recruited to explain and entertain, as everyday science was placed at the heart of Victorian domestic life. In this talk I shall introduce the aims and artefacts of ‘familiar science’, exploring how the quotidian world of commonplace artefacts was used to communicate facts and phenomena – in short, how learning things was achieved through learning with things.

This talk is part of the Departmental Seminars in History and Philosophy of Science series.

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