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Science, scientific instruments and questions of method in nineteenth-century British geography



The paper explores the promotion of method in nineteenth-century British geography. Attention is paid to the emphasis accorded scientific instruments in a period when scientific subjects were, in practice and in personnel, ‘disciplining’ themselves. The role ascribed to scientific instruments and method is examined with reference to the work in the Royal Geographical Society of Julian R. Jackson and his What to observe, or the traveller’s remembrancer (1841), and William Hamilton’s essay on geographical methods in John Herschel’s Manual of scientific enquiry (1849). These works are further explored with reference to two related texts, the Society’s Hints to travellers (Raper and Fitzroy 1854) and Francis Galton’s The art of travel (1855). The paper for the first time brings together evidence for the place of scientific instruments within geography’s methodological pronouncements with scholarship in the history of technology and the history of science. In doing so, the paper highlights the importance of critical histories of geography’s methods, instruments and associated practices. The conclusion addresses the implications of such research for providing yet richer histories of geography that might address not just the subject’s cognitive content and institutional context but matters of epistemological procedure, moral conduct and authorial regimen in relation to precision instrumentation.