2015 GSA Annual Meeting in Baltimore, Maryland, USA (1-4 November 2015)

Paper No. 189-8
Presentation Time: 10:00 AM


LARSEN, Kristine, Geological Sciences, Central Connecticut State University, 1615 Stanley St, New Britain, CT 06050, larsen@ccsu.edu

With the birth of the popular science movement in Britain in the late 1700s, women and children were at last considered an appropriate audience for basic-level introductions to science. Many women excelled in a new style of expository science writing, called the familiar format, which consisted of a series of science-based conversations, normally between adults and children (often a family unit). Between 1780 and 1840 this format became exceedingly popular, both in Britain and America. The incontrovertible queen of the familiar format was physician’s wife Jane Haldimand Marcet (1769-1858), whose Conversations on Chemistry (1806) was not only lauded in England, but enjoyed 23 editions in America that were also widely used as textbooks. While Marcet never wrote a similar text in geology, her physical geography book Conversations for Children on Land and Water (1838) was likewise popular on both sides of the Atlantic.

The widespread popularity of the familiar format led Charles Lyell to consider writing a geological “conversation,” noting in an 1828 letter to Gideon Algernon Mantell that “it is what no doubt the booksellers, and therefore the greatest number of readers, are desirous of,” but eventually thought against it.

Likewise, in the introduction to her Conversations on Mineralogy (1822) Delvalle Lowry (1800 – 1860) noted that “Not withstanding the number of elementary treatises on Mineralogy which have been published within the last few years, the mode of conversation has not yet been adopted in this branch of natural history.” Indeed, several works that purported to utilize this popular style in actually did not, while geologist Robert Bakewell (1768-1843) took the tactic of adding a “series of conversations explaining the principles of the science” to his An Introduction to Mineralogy (1819). While Lowry’s work enjoyed four editions in her native England plus an American edition, it can be argued that it was not a fully fleshed out conversation, but rather a scripted dialogue. This poster will compare three early “conversations” on mineralogy – those by Bakewell and Lowry, as well as Familiar Lessons in Mineralogy and Geology (1832), by Massachusetts native Jane Kilby Welsh (1783 - ?) - in order to illustrate the wide variety of ways that authors sought to introduce mineralogy through the familiar format.