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The role of history in teaching science — A case study

The popularization of science in nineteenth-century France

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One of the most interesting aspects of late-nineteenth-century France was the extraordinary interest the public expressed in science. Its adulation of Pasteur was only one of the many manifestations of this interest. It was also expressed in the widespread popularity of scientists as public figures and in the increasing public and private financial support of science. While popularity of science was created in the general public by fiction and by the various international ‘world fairs’ held in Paris, it was strongest and most important in the middle classes.

This paper examines one of the key methods used to stimulate bourgeois interest in science in France during the Second Empire and early Third Republic (1852–1895): the campaign to create ascience vulgarisée, a popularized science. While a number of different approaches used by these popularizers are examined, the article concentrates on the ‘science writings’ of Jules Michelet and Jules Verne, both of whom were immensely successful in creating a favorable climate of opinion for French science. The article concludes by suggesting how such an approach could be modernized and utilized in order to create greater scientific literacy and a similar acceptance by the public today.

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Hendrick, R.M. The role of history in teaching science — A case study. Sci Educ 1, 145–162 (1992). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00572836

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  • Financial Support
  • Teaching Science
  • General Public
  • Scientific Literacy
  • Middle Class