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Science in Print: Essays on the History of Science and the Culture of Print ed. by Rima D. Apple, Gregory J. Downey, and Stephen L. Vaughn (review)

From: Technology and Culture
Volume 55, Number 2, April 2014
pp. 491-492 | 10.1353/tech.2014.0050

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Reviewed by
Science in Print: Essays on the History of Science and the Culture of Print. Edited by Rima D. Apple, Gregory J. Downey, and Stephen L. Vaughn. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2012. Pp. xiv+ 235. $34.95.

The nine essays in this volume showcase recent work at the intersection of the history of science and the history of print culture. Historians of science have long been interested in the impact of print on the circulation and reception of scientific theories and concepts, but the authors here expand in several new directions.

While much of the history of print culture has focused on books, several essays here examine the meanings and uses of other types of printed material. Lynn Nyhart studies the published reports of the German Plankton Expedition of 1889 and their place in the practice of nineteenth-century marine biology. The specimens collected on this voyage were distributed among thirty-six scientists who wrote sixty reports between 1892 and 1913. This was a long-range, large-scale collaborative project by a community of scholars held together by the serial publication of reports. Jennifer Connor details the career of George Gould, an early-twentieth-century American medical editor who strove to put the control of medical journals in the hands of doctors rather than publishers. Gould presumed (not always correctly) that doctors would be motivated by the noble and unselfish desire to disseminate medical knowledge, whereas publishers were constrained by commercial considerations. Having medical journals under doctors’ control would raise the journals’ scientific standards and contribute to the professionalization of physicians. Rima Apple analyzes nutritional advice in women’s magazines, health pamphlets, and other material aimed at housewives, arguing that these sources constructed and reinforced the “ideology of meat,” the idea that meat is an essential part of a healthy diet. She further shows the ways in which this literature, especially that produced by government agencies, was heavily influenced by lobbying from the meat industry itself.

Several authors explore types of books that have received less attention from historians of science because of their more “popular” character. Robin Rider looks at late-eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century American algebra textbooks, focusing particularly on the ways that typography shaped mathematical learning. In some texts, algebraic expressions were embedded in sentences, emphasizing mathematics as a language. In others, the expressions were set off from the rest of the text with blank space in ways that emphasized quantitative relations and patterns. Kate McDowell and Sally Gregory Kohlstedt both examine early-twentieth-century scientific books and pedagogical material aimed at children. McDowell demonstrates that the authors of scientific books for children rarely discussed evolution, [End Page 491] and she suggests that this was because these texts typically emphasized observation of the natural world, and evolution was not observable. This essay dovetails nicely with Kohlstedt’s, which examines “nature study” textbooks from the early twentieth century. Nature study advocates emphasized direct engagement with nature rather than reading books about nature, which made the production of such textbooks something of a paradox. Cheryl Knott looks at the very different reception and impact of the first and second editions of an important book in the environmental movement, Stewart Udall’s The Quiet Crisis (1963). Meghan Doherty analyzes William Faithorne’s The Art of Graveing and Etching (1662) and argues that he played a crucial role in constructing the concept of “accuracy” in images, a fundamental prerequisite for using images in natural philosophical texts.

Two authors look at strategies for collecting, preserving, and disseminating print materials. Connor discusses Gould’s efforts to create and promote medical libraries, and to foster the exchange of medical literature among libraries with the goal of making it freely accessible to all members of the profession. Bertrum MacDonald examines the relationship between the Smithsonian Institution and Canadian scientists. The Smithsonian sent scientific publications to Canadian scientists free of charge, and in return the latter sent the Smithsonian biological and mineralogical specimens for its collections. In this case, print materials became part of a mutually profitable exchange of scientific information and artifacts across the U.S.–Canadian border.

Although the essays here represent a wide variety of methods and...