Geography and science in Britain, 1831-1939

A study of the British Association for the Advancement of Science

By Charles Withers

Geography and science in Britain, 1831-1939


  • Hardcover

Book Information

  • Format: Paperback
  • ISBN: 978-1-5261-1671-0
  • Pages: 296
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £27.50
  • Published Date: May 2017
  • BIC Category: History, European history, SOCIAL SCIENCE / Archaeology, HISTORY / Europe / Great Britain, Mathematics & science / History of science, Humanities / British & Irish history, Modern History


This book examines the history and geography of science in nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century Britain and the British Empire. In considering the history and geography of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, and the discipline of geography in local, national and imperial contexts, the book makes an important inter-disciplinary contribution. Attention is paid to the Association's workings, to geography as a civic science in Britain and overseas and to the connections between education and citizenship in a period of interwar 'crisis' for geography and for science.

This volume will greatly extend the knowledge of the BAAS as a leading body for the promotion of science as a public good and will engage social and cultural historians, historians of science and of empire and those with interests in disciplinary history, notably historians of geography.


This important work of original scholarship explores the significant roles that the British Association played both by promoting science throughout the United Kingdom and its empire and as a locale within which one nascent discipline - geography - developed as a science. Based on primary sources, it is an exemplary contribution to the history of British science, successfully inter-weaving two geographical narratives.'

'Geography and Science in Britain, 1831-1939 delivers far more than the title suggests. Combining meticulous research with theoretical sophistication, Charles Withers has produced a groundbreaking study of one of the most important modern scientific bodies, the British Association for the Advancement of Science (BAAS). Through his focus on section E, the geography section of the BAAS, Withers is able to illuminate key themes in both the history of science and the history of geography. He explores the different urban settings of the BAAS annual meetings, its audiences, and its imperial agenda. He covers the disciplinary formation of geography, its development as a physical and human science, and its status in the early twentieth century. Withers' insistence on exploring both the geography of BAAS science and the science of geography in the BAAS yields impressive results. This book will be the definitive work on the post-mid nineteenth century BAAS.'

An extremely important contribution to the history of geography that challenges a good many existing assumptions
Roy Bridges, Journal of Interdisciplinary History, Volume 43, Number 1,

Charles Withers has made an important contribution to our understanding of the dissemination of British science . . . he has manages to shed light on an otherwise overlooked element in the history of our discipline
Hugh Clout, Annales de Geographie No 685, 2012


1. Introduction: Histories and geographies of science
2. Geographies of civic science: the British Association at work
3. The science of geography in the British Association
4. The dominion of science and geographies of empire: the BAAS overseas 1884-1929
5. Hierarchy, distribution, connection: geography as a science of the physical
6. Measurement, exploration and ethnology: geography and the human sciences
7. Science, education and the 'crisis' in geography, 1910-c.1939
8. Conclusion: the British Association, geographies of science and the science of


Charles W. J. Withers is Professor of Historical Geography at the University of Edinburgh

Geography and science in Britain, 1831-1939

By Charles Withers

Paperback £27.50 / $39.95

Hardcover £85.00 / $130.00

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