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Journal of the History of Biology

, Volume 40, Issue 1, pp 71–108 | Cite as

The Natural Sciences and the Development of Animal Morphology in Late-Victorian Cambridge

  • Helen J. Blackman
Article

Abstract

During the 1870s animal morphologists and embryologists at Cambridge University came to dominate British zoology, quickly establishing an international reputation. Earlier accounts of the Cambridge school have portrayed this success as short-lived, and attributed the school’s failure to a more general movement within the life sciences away from museum-based description, towards laboratory-based experiment. More recent work has shown that the shift in the life sciences to experimental work was locally contingent and highly varied, often drawing on and incorporating aspects of museum work. Thus in order to understand the more general changes, studies of particular sites are needed. Here I examine the organisation of teaching at Cambridge, both in terms of the spaces in which it was taught and the ways in which teaching and examining were organised, to bring out the complexities of the ‘revolt from morphology’ and to show in more detail the institutional aspects that intertwined with intellectual change. Francis Maitland Balfour, as head of the Cambridge school, was able to make use of family connections and his own personal wealth to promote morphology. His successor lacked these resources, and once competition within the natural sciences at Cambridge intensified, morphology was unable to compete properly.

Keywords

embryology Francis Maitland Balfour morphology University of Cambridge zoology 

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Notes

Acknowledgements

My thanks to Nick Hopwood, Tim Horder, Don Opitz, Jim Secord and three anonymous referees for their comments on earlier drafts of this article. I am grateful to the Syndics of Cambridge University Library, the Archives of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge and the American Museum of Natural History for permission to use material held in their collections. I would also like to thank the Balfour family for permission to cite material held in the Balfour family papers at the National Archives of Scotland. The research for this article was funded by a Wellcome Trust Research Fellowship.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Medical HistoryUniversity of ExeterExeterUK

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