SCFC883

Victorian Science: An Era of Discovery (55+)

The scientific advances of previous eras sometimes look “unsophisticated” or irrelevant to current discourse. We will challenge these assumptions by examining the Victorian era as a time rich in scientific discovery and invention. We will explore the technical developments in our understanding of scientific concepts and the social contexts that made these developments possible.

Questions we will deal with include: What was the “ether,” and why did it engage so many physicists? What key insights made the revolution in electricity and magnetism possible? What exactly did Darwin say about evolution? How were science and exploration related? How were developments in the science of sound linked to interests in physiology? And, finally, what was the nature of the relationship between science and the Victorian spiritualist movement?

Please note that enrollment in this course is reserved for adults 55+.

Currently not available for registration.

What will I learn?

Week 1: Science as Public Performance

We will look at the changing public attitudes toward science and technology in the Victorian era and explore the contributions of those individuals who spent a significant part of their careers engaging the public in thinking about science and the role of the media in communicating scientific ideas.

Week 2: Electricity and Magnetism

Electricity and magnetism were hot topics in the Victorian Era. We will examine how a few key insights and relatively simple experiments sparked a revolution in scientific understanding. We will focus on the “Maxwellians,” a group of British physicists who developed technologies making use of new ideas about electricity and magnetism.

Week 3: Darwin’s Theory of Evolution

Darwin’s theories continue to provoke discussion even today. We will explore broader conversations about geology and evolution that set the context for his work before exploring some key ideas in depth. We will also explore the debate surrounding these on their publication and throughout the late 19th century.

Week 4: Science, Exploration and Culture

The Victorian era’s pursuit of scientific knowledge was, in many ways, bound with a desire for exploration, to further the interests of the Empire, and an interaction with changing cultural ideas. We will explore these relationships by examining the contributions of selected scientist-explorers.

Week 5: The Science of Sound

We will explore ingenious equipment built to explore the nature of sound, paying particular attention to connections between the development of technological devices and ideas about human physiology, the technological development of several musical instruments and cultural shift in ideas about the nature of sound and noise.

Week 6: The “Science” of the Supernatural

We will explore the Victorian interest in spiritism and psychical research. We will devote  attention to how controversies in Victorian spiritualism reflected broader debates over what should be considered “science” and what might be considered part of the “natural” world.

How will I learn?

  • Lectures
  • Discussion (may vary from class to class)
  • Essays (applicable only to certificate students)

Who should take this course?

This course is useful for those interested in the history of science or the Victorian era.

How will I be evaluated?

For certificate students only:

Your instructor will evaluate you based on an essay you will complete at the end of the course. You will receive a grade of “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory”.

Textbooks and learning materials

Reading material (if applicable) will be available in class. Some course materials may be available online.

If you're 55+, you may take this course as part of

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