Finding a Scientific Voice: Performing Science, Space and Speech in the Nineteenth Century

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Taking as a point of departure recent scholarly interest in the geographies of spoken communication, this paper situates the cultivation of a scientific voice in a range of nineteenth-century contexts and locations. An examination of two of the century’s most celebrated science lecturers, Michael Faraday and Thomas Henry Huxley, offers a basis for more general claims about historical relations between science, speech and space. The paper begins with a survey of the ‘ecologies’ of public speaking in which advocates of science sought to carve out an effective niche. It then turns to a reconstruction of the varying and variously interpreted assumptions about authoritative and authentic speech that shaped how the platform performances of Faraday and Huxley were constructed, contested and remediated in print. Particular attention is paid to sometimes clashing ideals of vocal performance and paralinguistic communication. This signals an interest in the performative 2 dimensions of science lectures rather more than their specific cognitive content. In exploring these concerns, the paper argues that ‘finding a scientific voice’ was a fundamentally geographical enterprise driven by attempts to make science resonate with a wider oratorical culture without losing distinctive appeal and special authority
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)192-205
Number of pages14
JournalTransactions of the Institute of British Geographers
Issue number2
Early online date14 Nov 2016
Publication statusPublished - 07 May 2017


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