Tag Archives: history of science

Another good review for British University Observatories 1772–1939

British University Observatories 1772–1939

We’re very pleased to see another good review for Roger Hutchins’ book British University Observatories 1772–1939, this time in the British Journal for the History of Science

…impressive in many respects. The product of many years of painstaking research…incorporates existing literature while providing a phenomenal amount of new information…the equally impressive bibliography, index and synthetic tables help the reader navigate this enyclopedic volume, as does the author’s clear, factual prose and his sure-footed guidance…Altogether meticulously written, well illustrated and carefully produced…

Victoria Sparey reviews “Popular Medicine, Hysterical Disease, and Social Controversy in Shakespeare’s England”

Popular Medicine, Hysterical Disease, and Social Controversy in Shakespeare's England

Victoria Sparey, from the University of Exeter, reviews Kaara L Peterson’s book Popular Medicine, Hysterical Disease, and Social Controversy in Shakespeare’s England on the BSLS website:

Popular Medicine, Hysterical Disease, and Social Controversy in Shakespeare’s England provides an important contribution to understandings of early modern medical knowledge… Peterson offers insightful new readings of familiar scenes from plays by Shakespeare, Webster, Ford, Middleton, Beaumont and Fletcher, and Chapman.

You can read the full review on the BSLS website

British University Observatories – “a thorough and scholarly work, full of fascinating anecdotes”

We’re really pleased to see another very positive review, this time in the Notes and Records of the Royal Society (September 2010) for Roger Hutchins’ book British University Observatories, 1772-1939.

…this is a thorough and scholarly work, full of fascinating anecdotes.

British University Observatories fills a gap in the historiography of British astronomy by offering the histories of observatories identified as a group by their shared characteristics. The first full histories of the Oxford and Cambridge observatories are here central to an explanatory history of each of the six that undertook research before World War II – Oxford, Dunsink, Cambridge, Durham, Glasgow and London. Each struggled to evolve in the middle ground between the royal observatories and those of the ‘Grand Amateurs’ in the nineteenth century.

Fundamental issues are how and why astronomy came into the universities, how research was reconciled with teaching, lack of endowment, and response to the challenge of astrophysics. One organizing theme is the central importance of the individual professor-directors in determining the fortunes of these observatories, the community of assistants, and their role in institutional politics sometimes of the murkiest kind, patronage networks and discipline shaping coteries. The use of many primary sources illustrates personal motivations and experience.

About the Author: Roger Hutchins, FRAS, as a member of Magdalen College received his B.A. in Modern History from the University of Oxford in 1992, and his D.Phil. in 1999. He was also a Research Associate with and contributor to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Other reviews:

‘The development of research and teaching astronomy in British Universities hinged on the foundation, equipping, and staffing of observatories. This book provides the first detailed study of these institutions across a century and a half. (It) is both a social and a scientific history… a major contribution to our knowledge of the development of scientific institutions in Great Britain… It is a masterpiece of rigorous scholarship, and its style and lack of jargon will make it accessible to a wide range of readers.’    Allan Chapman, Wadham College, Oxford, UK

‘An encyclopaedic work … it includes material which is extremely difficult to find anywhere else and subjects it to a penetrating analysis … an invaluable resource.’    Derek Jones, Institute of Astronomy, Cambridge, UK

‘This book is a primary source for the history of these observatories. The account of the Neptune incident is splendid; it is historical, and avoids the polemic that has muddled the subject.’    David Dewhirst, Cambridge Observatories, UK

‘This book lays down a new baseline in the field, much as Allan Chapman’s The Victorian Amateur Astronomer did.’    Peter Hingley, Librarian, Royal Astronomical Society

‘‘This encyclopedic work based on extensive scholarship is accessible to the general reader and will be valuable for historians of science…Highly recommended.’    Choice

… a masterly piece of work … an absorbing read, dealing not just with astronomy but also with the politics and finance of the science, the social place of the professional astronomer, and his, and occasionally her, relation to the changing amateur establishment. It is hard to see how anyone in the forseeable future will supersede British University Observatories for it is authoritative, well illustrated and readable.’    Astronomy Now

‘The book is thoroughly researched and plentiful in detail, reflecting extensive background work with a range of primary sources. The abundance of factual information might discourage readers more interested in the general underlying questions and less concerned with the intricacies of British astronomical history. However, the absence of lofty jargon and the lively depictions of the actors’ personalities and idiosyncrasies offer the possibility of a pleasant reading. Furthermore, the book is efficiently arranged by theme and chronological period. This is a valuable work of reference that will be equally useful to students of the history of astronomy and astrophysics, and to those specialising in the institutional history of science. It is of particular import to those interested in the role of universities in the promotion of pure research.’    Nuncius

‘The high standards of scholarship are matched by high production standards – this is a tome that feels good in the hand and looks good to the eye. I’d expect to find it on the shelves wherever history of science is studied.’    The Observatory Magazine

‘Particularly impressive is the range of material covered as well as the depth of research. I recommend British University Observatories to everyone with a serious interest in the history of astronomy between the late eighteenth and early twentieth centuries.’    Journal of the British Astonomical Association

‘The overall impression of the book is a very well researched and thorough work with ample citations, bibliography and index. … The quality of the reproductions is impressive, as often this is an area compromised by publishers of small print runs. Likewise, the quality of the printing, paper and stitch binding is equally high. … I recommend it as a vital addition to any library of the history of astronomy, even in these times of economic retrenchment.’    SHA Bulletin

‘Not only is the book comprehensively footnoted, but its 32-page bibliography and 60-page (!) index are unusually useful and interesting. … a fascinating cultural and social history, an astronomical reference book, and a valuable comparative analysis of the research, instruments, and long-term contributions of a group of observatories sharing defining characteristics. Hutchins’s approach could provide a fruitful model for the analysis of observatories in other nations.’    Journal for the History of Astronomy

‘Un must per le biblioteche.’    Giornale di Astronomia

British University Observatories is a highly useful book whose factual content and thematic construction are a major contribution to the history of astronomy. Hopefully it will be a model for studies of observatories in other countries.’    Journal of the Antique Telescope Society

‘…what a marvellous, worthwhile and rewarding book it is. Not only does Hutchins write well, but he also carefully distinguishes between data and opinion.…Nearly every extant image of a university observatory, its instruments and its occupants has been beautifully reproduced. Each chapter is superbly referenced, and the bibliography is extensive.…Read this book. It will make you proud to be at the chalkface of tertiary astronomy education.’    Emeritus Professor David W. Hughes, Journal of Astronomical History and Heritage

‘It is the great strength of this volume by Roger Hutchins that six British university observatories-ranging north to south from Glasgow, Durham, and Dunsink to Cambridge, Oxford, and London-not only receive an account of their history up to the beginning of World War II, but also for the first time are treated to a detailed comparison. While a few of these institutions have had their histories written … never before have they been compared with such rich and nuanced results.…Historians of technology will find here a tremendous amount of information on a variety of telescopes, spectroscopes, photographic equipment; and timepieces, among other accoutrements of astronomical research.…Hutchins has made ample use of primary and secondary sources, including manuscript and archival resources in the United Kingdom and the United States. His volume is rounded out by a lengthy bibliography and an extremely detailed, and therefore useful, index. He is to be congratulated for a well-written and pathbreaking book, and the publisher for a handsome and well-produced volume.’    Steven J. Dick, Technology and Culture

‘… a masterly, comprehensive, and well-illustrated institutional history.…Hutchins’s book is an essential contribution to the history of science, both when it delivers what it promises, but especially when it digresses to the history of instrumentation, practices, research agendas, and to geographies beyond Britain. A large section dedicated to the discovery of Neptune, to cite one example, illustrates new relationships between mathematical, amateur, practical, and university astronomy, but it is in fact most interesting when it departs from the institutional focus of the book.’    Victorian Studies

Biblical Scholarship, Science and Politics in Early Modern England shortlisted for HSS Davis prize

We’re very pleased to learn that the History of Science Society has shortlisted an Ashgate book for the Watson Davis and Helen Miles Davis Prize.

The book is Kevin Killeen‘s Biblical Scholarship, Science and Politics in Early Modern England: Thomas Browne and the Thorny Place of Knowledge.

Killeen’s work centres on a reassessment of the scope and importance of Browne’s most elaborate text, Pseudodoxia Epidemica, his vast encyclopaedia of error with its mazy series of investigations, encompassing biblical commentary, historiography, natural history, classical philology, artistic propriety and an encyclopaedic coverage of natural philosophy. The book traces the intellectual climate in which such disparate interests could cohere.

About the author: Kevin Killeen is a lecturer in Early Modern English Literature at the University of York, UK.


Leah Knight’s “Of Books and Botany in Early Modern England” wins the BSLS book prize

We are delighted to announce that Leah Knight has been awarded this year’s BSLS book prize for “Of Books and Botany in Early Modern England”. The award was announced at the 2010 British Society for Literature and Science conference, held at Northumbria University last week.

All the judges for this year’s BSLS book prize agreed wholeheartedly that Leah Knight’s ‘Of Books and Botany in Early Modern England’ was a very worthy winner. Knight’s book is a fascinating contribution to the study of literature and science in the early modern period. Elegantly written and meticulous in its scholarship, it opens up the field of botany in the sixteenth century for literary analysis and cultural history, drawing out too how central early modern thinking about plants was to print culture as a whole. As well as being an excellent contribution to the field in its own right, ‘Of Books and Botany’ is one of an important new series of books on Literary and Scientific Cultures of Early Modernity published by Ashgate. Ashgate has been leading the field in publishing books on literature and science, and it is extremely encouraging to see research into literature and science in the early modern period getting the same serious consideration and support as work in this same field in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.’

John Holmes, Chair of the judges for this year’s prize


BSLS book prize – ‘Of Books and Botany in Early Modern England’ shortlisted

We are delighted to learn that Leah Knight‘s book Of Books and Botany in Early Modern England has been shortlisted for this year’s British Society for Literature and Science book prize.

Two other Ashgate books: Bernadette Hofer‘s Psychosomatic Disorders in Seventeenth-Century French Literature and Bernard Kuhn’s Autobiography and Natural Science in the Age of Romanticism were also considered to be strong contenders.

The prize itself will be announced at the BSLS conference, which is taking place at Northumbria University on April 8th-10th. Ashgate will be attending the conference, and we will have copies of these books (and some others!) on display.

Confirmed keynote speakers are John Dupré, Professor of Philosophy of Science at Exeter University; Nick Daly, Professor of English Literature at University College Dublin; and Patricia Waugh, Professor of English Literature at Durham University.


The definitive account of William Crookes’ life?

We are delighted that William H. Brock, Emeritus Professor of History of Science at the University of Leicester, has been awarded The Chemical Heritage Foundation’s 2009 Roy G. Neville Prize for his book William Crookes (1832-1919) and the Commercialization of Science.

Frank A.J.L. James reviewed the book earlier this year for the Chemical Heritage news magazine

Brock, using more than 800 published articles by Crookes, as well as his journalism and surviving manuscripts, most important his laboratory notebooks, has written a convincing (I would almost be tempted to say definitive) account of Crookes’s varied life. … Continue reading