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University of Chicago Press
The Earth on Show: Fossils and the Poetics of Popular Science, 1802-1856

The Earth on Show: Fossils and the Poetics of Popular Science, 1802-1856

by Ralph O'ConnorRalph O'Connor


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At the turn of the nineteenth century, geology—and its claims that the earth had a long and colorful prehuman history—was widely dismissedasdangerous nonsense. But just fifty years later, it was the most celebrated of Victorian sciences. Ralph O’Connor tracks the astonishing growth of geology’s prestige in Britain, exploring how a new geohistory far more alluring than the standard six days of Creation was assembled and sold to the wider Bible-reading public.

Shrewd science-writers, O’Connor shows, marketed spectacular visions of past worlds, piquing the public imagination with glimpses of man-eating mammoths, talking dinosaurs, and sea-dragons spawned by Satan himself. These authors—including men of science, women, clergymen, biblical literalists, hack writers, blackmailers, and prophets—borrowed freely from the Bible, modern poetry, and the urban entertainment industry, creating new forms of literature in order to transport their readers into a vanished and alien past.

In exploring the use of poetry and spectacle in the promotion of popular science, O’Connor proves that geology’s success owed much to the literary techniques of its authors. An innovative blend of the history of science, literary criticism, book history, and visual culture, The Earth on Show rethinks the relationship between science and literature in the nineteenth century.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780226616681
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 12/15/2007
Pages: 542
Product dimensions: 7.00(w) x 10.00(h) x 1.50(d)

About the Author

Ralph O’Connor is professor in the literature and culture of Britain, Ireland, and Iceland at the University of Aberdeen.

Table of Contents

List of Abbreviations
Introduction: Science as Literature

Part I: Building the Story
1. Enter the Mammoth
2. William Buckland: Antiquary and Wizard
3. Lizards and Literalists
4. Lyell Steps In

Part II: Staging the Show
5. Marketing Geology
6. Polite Science and Narrative Form
7. Time Travel and Virtual Tourism in the Age of John Martin
8. Literary Monsters
9. Scenes and Legends from Deep Time
10. Hugh Miller and the Geologic Diorama

Epilogue: New Mythologies of the Ancient Earth
Appendix: Currencies, and Sizes of Books
Works Cited

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