Sacred medium: The professionalization of science in Victorian Britain
LE3 .A278 2012
Bachelor of Arts
History & Classics
Connected to abundant resource and capital flows through its colonies, Britain was “the workshop of the world” in the early nineteenth century. Attempts at trans-Atlantic and Indo-European submarine telegraphy, in the mid nineteenth century, exemplify the scale and complexity of Victorian engineering projects, which benefitted from the resources available to the British Empire. One such material, gutta percha, was used as insulation for the cables. However, first attempts in 1857-8 and 1859-60 failed as the gutta percha insulation ruptured. Operating from a primarily engineering information base, the investors of the enterprises—the Atlantic Telegraph Company and Board of Trade—established the Joint Scientific Committee (JSC) to analyze these failures and make recommendations for second attempts. Improved instrumentation and the application of electrical theory acted in concert with the JSC’s data collection to inform the successful Persian Gulf (1864) and Atlantic (1866) cables. In the 1860s, at the same time as scientific integration into these enterprises, the British government implemented scientific instruction at the elementary levels of British education with exponentially increasing enrolment in growing numbers of scientific courses. While business and government were revolutionized by rapid information flow, scientific disciplines were changed more by the process of establishing the submarine telegraph network. Credentialed expertise became imbedded institutionally in British society through scientific utility to Victorian engineering projects and the educational reforms that received support from government, business and science.
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