Popular Science in Eighteenth-century Norwich

Trevor Fawcett describes how courses of public lectures provided some of the knowledge of science omitted from a gentleman’s education.

A gentleman’s education in the eighteenth century contained little or nothing of science. Such schools as did eventually include science in the syllabus were wholly exceptional. The most that could be expected from the normal curriculum was some slight acquaintance with astronomy, derived from the celestial globe during lessons on navigation and geography.

Nevertheless, among laymen there was considerable curiosity about the discoveries of recent science. Natural phenomena seemed interesting in themselves, and experimentation sounded fascinating. It was clear that certain discoveries had immediate useful application to technology. And scientific investigation raised serious philosophical and even religious issues. Many laymen wanted to know more.

Probably the most efficient agency for the general diffusion of scientific information at this period was the course of public lectures. Certainly it was a more graphic method than that in any textbook, for the salient points of each lecture could be effectively demonstrated on real apparatus and with ingenious visual aids.

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