Cosmology, chronology and crises: trauma and the evolution of the universe in the nineteenth century

Carlton, Howard ORCID: 0000-0002-4054-6409 (2020). Cosmology, chronology and crises: trauma and the evolution of the universe in the nineteenth century. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

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This thesis will argue that whilst the historiography of the development of scientific ideas in the nineteenth century has for some time acknowledged the important influences of social, cultural and material factors, and the recent turn to the history of emotions has further reinforced the influences of psychology and physiology on subjectivities, the significant impact of existential trauma, life threatening illness or bereavement on apparently objective intellectual thought processes may not have been fully recognised. The ideas of selected subjects with respect to the nature of the universe and the interlinked epistemologies of science, religion, metaphysics and ideology were sometimes materially altered by emotionally affective life-events as evidenced by their subsequent productions and their performances of altered selves.

Given that the historiography of geology and biology during this period is relatively voluminous, this work will focus on the somewhat less-studied views of people who opined on the structure, size and composition of the universe. The approach taken will be to explore three topics of great interest to nineteenth-century astronomers and physicists; the question of the possible existence of life on other planets, the deployment of the nebular hypothesis as a theory of cosmogony and the religiously charged debates about the ages of the earth and sun.

Evidence has arisen as a result of a close reading of the comments and narratives of the subjects and their biographers for the sometimes subtle and complex influences which influenced their thinking on these questions. In the course of studying such primary sources it became clear that they frequently referred to significant life crises which preceded important changes in their theological, metaphysical and scientific worldviews. A few notable cases of this ilk have already been clearly signposted by historians, but the case histories discussed below will provide a significant set of new examples of such affects and effects. We will uncover the stories of several such perspective-altering events and will further interrogate the available documents in order to study the relationships between psyche and soma thus revealed. Applying this suggested mode of interpretation to the broader field of nineteenth-century scientific developments in general, we shall achieve a greater understanding of the underlying motivations which drove the intellectual history of that era and which are still relevant to today’s knowledge-making processes.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
Licence: All rights reserved
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Arts & Law
School or Department: School of History and Cultures, Department of History
Funders: None/not applicable
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain


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