Aristocrats and Professionals: Country-House Science in Late-Victorian Britain

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Aristocrats and Professionals: Country-House Science in Late-Victorian Britain

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The historiography of late-Victorian and Edwardian science has overwhelmingly emphasized the importance of new institutional arrangements and the professional growth of the scientific disciplines, largely owing to the initiatives of the British middle-class and the increasing support of research by the British government. While historians consistently acknowledged the agency of gentlemen of science and domestic sites for research in the background to these developments, few have analyzed the tenacity and influence of the individuals, their activities, and the domestic social contexts in which they worked beyond the mid-nineteenth century. This dissertation considers the status of country-house science and "professionalization" from roughly 1850 to 1920. I argue that, enabled by a familial social infrastructure, an extensive aristocratic network--consisting of the Balfour, Campbell, Cavendish, Darwin, Gascoyne-Cecil, Parsons, and Strutt families--contributed to the intellectual and professional advancement of scientific fields in ways that applied, generally, politically-Conservative, yet liberally intellectual, theistic beliefs. Their perspectives, which contrasted with agnosticism, scientific naturalism, and middle-class professionalism, emphasized the respectability of the amateur study of nature at home as a means for personal atonement and the promotion of social good--an outlook consistent with the evangelical, aristocratic values in which their society came of age. Country-house science thus provided a model for the study of science at home as well as within purpose-built sites; it was a distinct vision and an enterprise that, amid social hierarchies governed by class and gender, encouraged broad participation within a dynamic intellectual milieu.


University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. December 2004. Major: History of Science and Technology. Advisors: Sally Gregory Kohlstedt. 1 computer file (PDF); xi, 291 pages.

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Opitz, Donald Luke. (2004). Aristocrats and Professionals: Country-House Science in Late-Victorian Britain. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy,

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