Workshop: Self-Fashioning Scientific Identities in the Long Nineteenth Century

Self-Fashioning Scientific Identities in the Long Nineteenth Century

University of Leicester, 15th June 2018

Keynote: Dr Patricia Fara, University of Cambridge


‘You will I am sure on reflection, readily acknowledge that as a man of science I have no choice but to pursue “truth” to the best of my ability in spite of consequences[.]’

St G. J. Mivart to Charles Darwin, 1873

‘The only alteration I would suggest is that the word “Miss” should be removed. I do not like the word if it is not quite needed; and would it not be well to add a reference to my being an authorised agricultural worker?’

Eleanor Ormerod to W. B. Tegetmeier, 1898


At the beginning of the nineteenth century, there was no such thing as a scientist. While professional careers in science were gradually formalised, many scientific practitioners aspired to none at all. Lacking blueprints to guide their behaviour, practitioners of all descriptions had to carve out their own identities to demonstrate expertise, prestige, taste, authority. How did one comport oneself? How should one write, and where? Who should be included in the community and who excluded? Were you a natural philosopher, a savant, a man of science, a scientist, or none of the above?

Scholars of nineteenth-century science and culture have revealed diverse scientific identities, including romantic geologists, chemical-wielding showmen, and poetic physicists, alongside artisan botanists, unpaid draughtswomen, and husband-and-wife collaborations. Recent scholarship complicates rigid distinctions between amateur and professional, populariser and primary researcher, and scientific writing and imaginative prose, producing increasingly nuanced studies of the ways in which scientific practitioners sought to shape their own identities.

Stephen Greenblatt’s now-classic study of ‘self-fashioning’ demonstrated how one might carve out for oneself ‘a distinctive personality, a characteristic address to the world, a consistent mode of perceiving and behaving’. Indeed, self-fashioning has been a valuable tool for thinking about how complex changes in scientific culture were carried out across the nineteenth century. Studying the shaping of practitioners’ identities in these terms allows us to explore the formation and negotiation of scientific communities in insightful ways.

This one-day workshop aims to bring together scholars interested in the processes through which scientific practitioners constructed identities for themselves and how these identities were, in turn, perceived by their colleagues and wider society. Although the focus will predominantly be upon the long nineteenth century, we are also happy to consider papers that speak to these issues outside this timeframe. We would particularly welcome papers that explore self-fashioning beyond the exclusive circles of English men of science. Submissions are invited on the following topics:

  • Gender identity and science
  • Class identity and science
  • National identity and science
  • Ethnicity and science
  • Amateurs/amateurisation and professionals/professionalisation
  • Popularisers and primary researchers
  • Self-fashioning through correspondence
  • Self-fashioning through literary style
  • The identities of scientific periodicals
  • Key terms, such as ‘(gentle)man of science’, ‘savant’, and ‘scientist’
  • Scientific practitioners in fiction, poetry, and cartoons

Papers will be 20 minutes in length, and the deadline for abstracts of up to 250 words is 9th April. We will inform accepted speakers by the 23rd April.

Please send abstracts and any other enquiries to:

There will be no registration fee, and we are able to support the travel costs of postgraduates and ECRs who are accepted to speak. Those who receive this assistance may be asked to contribute a short blog post regarding their experience of the event.

The venue is yet to be confirmed, but we will advise attendees regarding accessibility as soon as this information becomes available. If you would like to discuss your specific requirements, please do not hesitate to contact us via the above email address.

Organised by Richard Fallon (Leicester), Matthew Wale (Leicester), and Alison Moulds (Oxford).