Abstract of my presentation to be given during the Colloquium “Amateurs in Science: a history from below” organised as part of the AmateurS project, 5-7 September 2022.
From the 1780s, the literary and philosophical societies (Lit and Phils) emerged as pioneers of science culture in provincial England. Whilst their high subscription fees secured their privileged status as the preserve of the upper and middle-class socialisation, their intellectual eclecticism spanning from literature to the discussions on evolution helped them survive throughout the nineteenth-century. Studies on the Lit and Phils have been dominated by the case studies on those established in the north of England. As a result, much of our understanding of these associations which became the hallmark of Victorian civic pride and culture has been shaped by the peculiarities of this industrial region where the largest networks of professional scientists appeared in the late nineteenth-century England. In this paper, however, I examine three Lit and Phils in the Midlands, namely, those of Birmingham (1876-1894), Leicester (1835- ) and Nottingham (1865-1883). The three towns and their Lit and Phils provide recognizably different urban structures and actors to re-examine our understanding of the practice and organisation of science in Victorian England. By investigating the self-identification of these provincial scientific associations vis-à-vis scientific research, notably fieldwork, and the self-assigned role within the urban hierarchy of scientific institutions, as well as their attitude and relation to professionalisation of science, I present a novel view on the Lit and Phils and on the organisation of science in urban England in Victorian period.