‘The Sympathy of a Crowd’: Creating Scientific Communities in Nineteenth-Century Natural History Periodicals

Matthew Wale
University of Leicester

Writing in the 1857 edition of the Entomologist’s Annual, Henry
Stainton observed that the ‘publication of each other’s movements
reacts favourably upon Entomologists,’ as it ‘produces the sympathy of
a crowd; each finding himself no longer isolated, and working only for
his own amusement, […] he works now for the amusement and
instruction of others as well as his own.’ Stainton edited a number of
periodicals, including the Annual and the Entomologist’s Weekly
Intelligencer. The latter of these aimed to keep Britain’s thriving
entomological community abreast of all the very latest developments
and discoveries in the field, thereby providing a medium through which
such information was communicated at an unprecedented speed and scale.
Charles Darwin himself was a reader, and published a number of short
notices requesting information from this ever-expanding network of
expertise. The importance of periodicals to scientific practice during
the nineteenth century has hitherto not received sufficient scholarly
attention, leaving considerable scope for investigation into how the
burgeoning periodical press of the period had significant implications
for the creation and circulation of scientific knowledge. Through an
examination of natural history periodicals, this paper will
demonstrate how these publications created scientific communities,
both within and outside of the text, by providing a regular medium of
interchange between naturalists. It will particularly address the
strand of the call concerned with the role of the reader in press
interactions, focussing on the many ways in which naturalists engaged
with the contents of the periodicals, and with each other. It will
take into consideration correspondence columns, specimen exchange
advertisements, and notices of observations made. Great attention will
be paid to the democratising power of these publications, which
allowed for a much larger and more diverse reading audience to
actively participate in scientific discourse. Furthermore, the role of
the editor in mediating these interactions will be examined, as will
their attempts to mobilise these newly created networks to further
their own scientific work.

Newspapers and Periodicals in Britain and Ireland from 1800 to 1900