Meeting Places: Scientific Congresses and Urban Identity in Victorian Britain
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The promotion of knowledge was a major preoccupation of the Victorian era and, beginning in 1831 with the establishment of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, a number of national bodies were founded which used annual, week-long meetings held each year in a different town or city as their main tool of knowledge dissemination. Historians have long recognised the power of 'cultural capital' in the competitive climate of the mid-Victorian years, as towns raced to equip themselves with libraries, newspapers, 'Lit. and Phil.' societies and reading rooms, but the staging of the great annual knowledge festivals of the period have not previously been considered in this context. The four national associations studied are the British Association for the Advancement of Science (BAAS), the National Association for the Promotion of Social Science (NAPSS), the Royal Archaeological Institute (RAI) and the Royal Agricultural Society of England (RASE), who held annual meetings in 62 different provincial towns and cities from 1831 to 1884. In this book it is contended that these meetings were as important as royal visits and major civic ceremonies in providing towns with an opportunity to promote their own status and identity. By deploying a wealth of primary source material, much of which has not been previously utilised by urban historians, this book offers a new and genuinely Britain-wide perspective on a period when comparison and competition with neighbouring places was a constant preoccupation of town leaders.
Table of Contents
Contents: Introduction; Movable feasts: Victorian knowledge associations and the evolution of the annual meeting; The bidding contest; Running the meeting; Experiencing the meeting; Beyond the meeting: host towns and the parliaments of science effect; Conclusion; Appendices; Bibliography; Index.
Louise Miskell is Senior Lecturer in the Department of History and Classics at Swansea University.
'The book's primary focus upon the urban dimension of the weekly parliaments rather than their scientific or intellectual content pays real dividends. The richly documented and meticulous case-studies illuminate the impact of the congresses upon the towns involved ... By deploying a wealth of primary source materials, most of which have not been exploited by urban historians in this kind of way before ... this book offers a new and genuinely Britain-wide perspective on a period when comparison and competition between neighbouring places was a constant preoccupation of urban elites.' Urban History 'While the British Association for the Advancement of Science has long formed a subject of research for historians of science, Louise Miskell does a useful service by putting it in the context not of the reforms of the Royal Society or the foundation of disciplinary societies, but of other similar peripatetic associations and of the urban locations that hosted them.' British Journal for the History of Science