470 Stephens Hall
University of New Hampshire
Adam Walker was one of the most successful scientific lecturers in Britain in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. His case will allow me to explore some of the links between public science and aesthetics in this period, specifically the invocation of the “sublime” in a scientific context. The extraordinary demonstration apparatus that Walker called his “eidouranion” was frequently referred to—by himself and by others— as conveying a sense of the sublime in teaching astronomy. My argument will be that the use of this word both revealed and concealed aspects of the experience of those who attended Walker’s displays. It revealed the connections to other kinds of spectatorship, for example in the theatre or when viewing scenes of nature, when the passions and the intellect were engaged. But, at the same time, it concealed some of the implications of the underlying ideas, including those that were potentially challenging to religious orthodoxy. The use of the term “sublime” thus facilitated Walker’s transition between two rather different social worlds: the English provincial Enlightenment, where he began, and the more culturally conservative climate of the Regency metropolis, where he ended up.
Additional sponsorship comes from: Berkeley Program in Science and Technology Studies Office for the History of Science and Technology