John Tresch – Barnum, Bache, and Poe: American Science and the Antebellum Public
Where: Columbia University
116th St. & Broadway
212-854-1754 Price: Free
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Speaker: John Tresch, Associate Professor of History & Sociology of Science, University of Pennsylvania
Two opposed tendencies characterized U.S. public culture around 1840: first, a sharp increase of printed matter in which the sites, audiences, styles, and speakers for matters of public concern exploded in number and diversity; second, an elitist movement to unify knowledge through centralized institutions. In the domain of science, Barnum’s “American Museum” typified the first, while the U.S. Coastal Survey, directed by patrician polymath Alexander Dallas Bache, exemplified the second. The life and writings of Edgar Allan Poe—who wrote constantly about the sciences as he struggled to survive by his pen—pushed in both directions at once. Poe “forged” American science and letters in two senses: by crafting believable fakes which fed the uncertainty about authority over knowledge, and by lending aid to projects to restrict the flow of information and establish a unified intellectual infrastructure. His work thus offers uniquely astute and conflicted commentary on the relations of science and public in this early phase of industrialization.
This event is free and open to the public.
This event is part of the New York History of Science Lecture Series.