Reshaping Dinosaurs: The Popularisation of Palaeontology in Anglo-American Culture, 1877–1921
thesisposted on 2019-06-12, 15:43 authored by Richard Fallon
During the last quarter of the nineteenth century, a wealth of discoveries – most of which were made in the United States – transformed how palaeontologists and the wider public viewed dinosaurs. By the early decades of the twentieth century, ‘dinosaur’ had changed from an obscure technical term to a household word and creatures like Brontosaurus were iconic objects of popular culture. Whereas previous studies of palaeontology in this period have focused largely on American museums, this thesis examines how these new dinosaurs were explored in transatlantic mass literary culture. It argues that the popularisation of dinosaur palaeontology was a transatlantic enterprise in which nonspecialist writers played a crucial role. By focusing on writers, many of whom were British and did not work in scientific institutions or contribute to technical journals, this thesis complicates existing perspectives which emphasise the role of American palaeontologists, and palaeontologists more generally, in popularisation. It shows that popular writing on dinosaurs was often antagonistic towards (or apathetic about) the elite scientific community; in particular, the thesis highlights the significance of the science journalist Henry Neville Hutchinson (1856–1927), whose prominent writings on dinosaurs controversially undermined the increasing specialisation of scientific authority and the complicated literary style of science writing. The thesis also provides new perspectives on works of American and British fiction, including John Jacob Astor’s A Journey in Other Worlds (1894) and Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World (1912), where dinosaurs were co-opted into narratives of evolutionary progress, national identity, anti-materialism, imperialism, and romance. Supplementing these published works with an examination of archival material, the thesis shows that these authors influentially shaped the ‘meanings’ of dinosaurs in anglophone culture. The thesis thereby combines insights on the popularisation of science with contributions to the fields of literature and science and transatlantic literary culture.