A culture of curiosity

Science in the eighteenth-century home

Leonie Hannan
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A culture of curiosity illuminates the home as an environment uniquely conducive to scientific enquiry in the eighteenth-century British world. Drawing on diverse manuscript sources, from household accounts to life writing, Leonie Hannan shows that scientific practices grew from the conditions and labour of home. In doing so, her study challenges traditional assumptions about the ‘Enlightenment’ and illuminates a diverse population of eighteenth-century scientists. Collectively, they represent a vibrant culture of curiosity that has evaded the historian’s eye. Structured in three parts, the book begins with an examination of the home itself. The second part analyses a series of domestic practices through the lives of diarists, letter-writers, collectors, star-gazers and experimenters. The book culminates with an exploration of what scientific enquiry meant to these people and considers the ramifications of their activities for larger histories of intellectual life. The analysis reveals the way little-known scientists constructed their own investigative authority, staking claim to enquiry as a facet of personal identity. A culture of curiosity offers an intellectual history from below. The findings suggest that lower-status scientists were not just ignored, but their work was also misunderstood with far-reaching consequences. The book therefore argues for a decisive break with dualist framings of knowledge-making, which serve to distort the interpretation of intellectual culture at large. By rejecting the limiting associations of ‘domestic life’, this book re-imagines a culture of enquiry populated by apprentices and housewives as much as Fellows of the Royal Society.

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