Professionalizing Science: British Geography, Africa, and the Exploration of the Nile
This dissertation identifies the mid-nineteenth century as an inflection point in the practice, organization, and perception of science in Britain. In assessing the history of British exploration in Africa, I investigate how a new generation of explorers overcame social and economic barriers that limited scientific work to gentlemen scientists. I examine the strategies employed by explorers to bolster their scientific credentials, such as a commitment to accurate measurements; a reliance on learned institutions such as the Royal Geographical Society to confer scientific and financial capital on explorers; and a devotion to ideologies prevalent in British geographic circles such as abolitionism and the holistic description of the world. By investigating how these strategies occurred in the context of Nile exploration, I connect the issue of the professionalization of geography with questions of empire, indigenous knowledge, and the transnational nature of British geography. Finally, I chart the development of geography from its seeming unity with the establishment of the Royal Geographical Society to the division of the field between academic geographers and field scientists. It is my hope this study can assess how the legacy of Nile exploration helped transform science in the nineteenth century and reframe the relationship between science and society.
For more information as to my historiographic intervention and my research plans, feel free to look at my dissertation prospectus: Link.