The field, the museum and the lecture hall: the spaces of natural history in Victorian Cornwall

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Abstract

This paper contributes to our understandings of the geographies of science through an analysis of nineteenth–century natural history and, in particular, of the provincial natural history society. Focusing on nineteenth–century Cornwall and one of the main natural history societies operating in the county at that time – the Penzance Natural History and Antiquarian Society – it is argued that a set of key spaces were integral to the operations and outputs of such societies. The paper details the significance of the Penzance Society’s museum, field sites and lecture hall as sites for communal work of local natural historians. They were also important, it is argued, in their construction of West Cornwall as a site of national natural scientific importance. Lastly, these spaces defined an agenda for regional scientific study. In particular, they promoted a taxonomic method that would transform local people into rigorous scientists and the local region into a ‘book of nature’.

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