"The Politics of Popular Physiology in Germany in the 1840s and 50s"
Friday, March 29, 2019 - 3:35pm
Nicholson 155
Lynn Nyhart
University of Wisconsin - Madison

Lecture location: Nicholson 155

In the 1840s German scientists began a wave of popular science publication that swelled to a tide by the 1850s. While Justus Liebig’s Chemical Letters (1844) and Alexander von Humboldt’s Kosmos (1845-1852) served as leading models, a particularly intense ideological battle was waged among physiologists writing for a broader public. While this has usually been cast in terms of the philosophical dispute over materialism (or “Materialismusstreit”), in this paper I would like to refocus our attention on the politics and rhetoric of popular physiology. What did it mean to scientists to write about animal, plant, and human physiology for a broader public? How was this kind of writing different from what was directed at other specialists? How did the politics of the time play out in claims about both physiology and about what “the public” ought to know? I argue that taking seriously the politics of popularization—in particular, its relations to the revolutions of 1848 and their aftermath—helps us to understand the shape of the German physiology community in the 1850s and later, as well as the complex relationship of physiologists toward popularization.