Inventing Canada: Early Victorian Science and the Idea of a Transcontinental Nation
Published: December 1987© 1987
376 Pages, 6.00 x 9.00 in
Ebook - PDF
The years of the nineteenth century that saw British North America attempting to establish a transcontinental nation also saw the fruition of scientific ideas that chalenged traditional conceptions of man's relationship with nature and the land. Victorian throught was undergiong a radical transition, from the static, orderly world modelled by eighteenth-century mathematical physics to the world-in-process epitomized by the mid-nineteenth-century theory of evolution by natural selection. In British North America this intellectual transition played itself out in a number of contexts: in the recorganization of science from the natural history tradition to a utilitarian ideology promoted by business and professional classes; in the institutionalization of scientific inventories such as the Geological Survey of Canada; and in the expansion from local to transcontinental interests. Tapping a wide range of archival and published sources, Suzanne Zeller documents the place of Victorian science in British North American thought and society during the era of Confederation. Four prominent Victorian 'inventory' sciences provide a focus for her study: geology, terrestrial magnetism, meterorology, and botany, each set within its wider context. She considers the role of individuals instrumental in each of these pursuits -- Sir William Edmond Logan, Sir John Henry Lefroy, and George Lawson -- and a host of scientists, politicians, educators, journalists, businessmen, and 'improving' farmers who promoted public support of these sciences. Together they formed a community that believed that science not only enhanced the possibilites of Canada's material progress but also provided a fertile ground for a 'new nationality' to take root as a northern variation of the British nation.
Victorian science offered a means to assess and control nature as a rational alternative to retreat from nature's harshness. It also helped develop a sense of Canada's past and brighten the prospects for a transcontinental future.