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Imperial Nature

Joseph Hooker and the Practices of Victorian Science

Imperial Nature

Joseph Hooker and the Practices of Victorian Science

Joseph Dalton Hooker (1817–1911) was an internationally renowned botanist, a close friend and early supporter of Charles Darwin, and one of the first—and most successful—British men of science to become a full-time professional. He was also, Jim Endersby argues, the perfect embodiment of Victorian science. A vivid picture of the complex interrelationships of scientific work and scientific ideas, Imperial Nature gracefully uses one individual’s career to illustrate the changing world of science in the Victorian era.
By analyzing Hooker’s career, Endersby offers vivid insights into the everyday activities of nineteenth-century naturalists, considering matters as diverse as botanical illustration and microscopy, classification, and specimen transportation and storage, to reveal what they actually did, how they earned a living, and what drove their scientific theories. What emerges is a rare glimpse of Victorian scientific practices in action. By focusing on science’s material practices and one of its foremost practitioners, Endersby ably links concerns about empire, professionalism, and philosophical practices to the forging of a nineteenth-century scientific identity.

448 pages | 49 halftones, 1 line drawing | 6 x 9 | © 2008

Biological Sciences: Botany, Evolutionary Biology

History: British and Irish History

History of Science


"A refreshing record of how scientists worked....[Endersby’s] contention, with which I agree, is that the practice of science provides the context necessary for understanding how theories advanced; without this background, scientific progress looks too simple, and leaps seem extraordinary."

Sandra Knapp | Nature

"The book fills an important gap in the history of our subject, so deserves to find its way into the library of every institution where botany is taught."

Peter Ayres | Annals of Botany

"This biography shows how science in the 19th century transformed from the activites of independently wealthy men to those of professionals paid by governments....Highly recommended."


"Endersby has done a wonderful job of thinking out and executing his charge, in good part through the aid of examples provided by personal letters that passed among the principal figures involved, and an extraordinary attention to setting out immediate contexts. These and his easy writing style give perfect shape to his main emphases: the influence of Darwinism on botanical science during this period, the characteristics of its professionalization, and the effects on its process and progress that the English colonial empire generated."

Charles H. Smith | Archives of Natural History

"One of the most satisfying performances of the last few years has got to be Jim Endersby’s remarkable new study of the practices and institutions of Victorian botany. . . . Endersby’s work is much more than mere biography. It greatly expands our notion of what it is to be science, to be imperial and to enroll nature in the modern period."

Gordon McOuat | British Journal for the History of Science

"Endersby has written a remarkable, deeply researched, multidimensional study of Joseph Dalton Hooker and Victorian botanical science. . . . With this book Endersby has established himself as a strong voice among historians of Victorian science. His views will invite controversy while at the same time requiring other historians of the culture and practice of Victorian science to reconsider many of their existing presupposiitons. This is a book to be read and pondered."

Frank M. Turner | Victorian Studies

Table of Contents

     List of Illustrations


1.  Traveling

2.  Collecting

3.  Corresponding

4.  Seeing

5.  Classifying

6.  Settling

7.  Publishing

8.  Charting

9.  Associating

10. Governing




History of Science Society: Suzanne J. Levinson Prize
Short Listed/Finalist

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