Science, text and space: thoughts on the geography of reading



The idea of a ‘geography of reading’ provides a potential point of conversation between the cultural and scientific wings of our profession. Here I explore some dimensions of the geography of reading scientific texts. Drawing on a number of theoretical pronouncements – Gadamer's ‘fusion of horizons’, Said's ‘travelling theory’, Secord's ‘geographies of reading’, Beer's ‘miscegenation of texts’, Fish's ‘interpretive communities’ and Rupke's ‘geographies of reception’– I focus on the spaces where scientific theories are encountered. The argument is that where scientific texts are read has an important bearing on how they are read. This realization points to a fundamental instability in scientific meaning and to the crucial significance of what might be called located hermeneutics. As a case study in the development of a cartographics of scientific meaning, I explore the different ways in which Darwin's fundamentally biogeographical theory of evolution by natural selection was construed in a number of different settings. The sites I have chosen to illustrate this are the scientific communities which congregated around the Charleston Museum of Natural History in South Carolina, the Wellington Philosophical Society and New Zealand Institute, and the St Petersburg Society of Naturalists in Russia during the second half of the nineteenth century. In each case the encounter with evolution theory, and the ways it was interpreted, are shown to have been shaped by local cultural politics, thereby disclosing the critical role that space plays in the production of scientific meaning.