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Commercial and Sublime: Popular Astronomy Lectures in Nineteenth Century Britain

Huang, H-F; (2015) Commercial and Sublime: Popular Astronomy Lectures in Nineteenth Century Britain. Doctoral thesis, UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

This thesis discusses the practitioners, sites, curriculums, apparatus and audiences of popular astronomy lecturing in nineteenth-century Britain. Lecturers who were active approximately between 1820 and 1860 are the focus. This thesis emphasises popularisers who were not scientific elites, including C. H. Adams (1803-1871), George Bartley (c. 1782-1858), and D. F. Walker (1778-1865). Activities of private popularisers are compared with those in scientific establishments, such as the Royal Institution. Private entrepreneurs were not inferior to institutional competitors and enjoyed popularity among audiences. Until the 1860s, popular astronomy lecturing was a shared arena of institutional and private popularisers. A theatrical turn occurred in the popular astronomy lecturing trade before 1820. Popularisers moved lectures into theatres and adopted theatrical facilities in performance. They developed large onstage devices, such as the transparent orrery, for achieving scenic and dramatic effects. These onstage astronomical lectures were a phenomenon in the early nineteenth century and were usually performed during Lent. This thesis highlights ‘commercial’ and ‘sublime’ features in popular astronomy lecturing of this period. The lecturing trade had an economic side involving paying, selling, profits and competitions in everyday practices. In addition to this material aspect, lectures also had emotional appeal. Lecturers exploited the sublime: the display of beautiful visual representations, the use of natural theology rhetoric, plus religious and moral reflections, all appealed for the sublimilty of the universe and the Creator behind it.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Title: Commercial and Sublime: Popular Astronomy Lectures in Nineteenth Century Britain
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Keywords: 19th-century British history, history of popular science, astronomical lecture, popular astronomy, orrery, planetarium
UCL classification: UCL > School of BEAMS
UCL > School of BEAMS > Faculty of Maths and Physical Sciences
URI: http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1462935
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