From the Popularization of Microscopy in the Victorian Age: A Lesson for Today's "Outreach".

Affiliation

CNRS, Laboratoire d'Océanographie de Villefranche-sur-Mer, BP 28, France. Electronic address: [Email]

Abstract

In the latter half of the Victorian Age (1837-1901) microscopy was introduced as popular past-time. Many books were published aimed at general audiences, both adult and juvenile, on microscopy. Here I consider 5 of these popular books of particular interest to protistologists as they included presentations of 'infusoria' or 'animalcules'. I focus on the scientific backgrounds of the authors, from what we know of them, and the approaches taken to engage the reader based on their texts and illustrations. The possible lesson to be drawn from this exercise concerns our oft-mandated efforts in "Outreach". The methods used by 19th century popularizes of the 'wonders of the microscopic world' can likely be used today. They appealed to the imagination, to empowerment, and gave very practical instructions on how to see the invisible. I conclude that we should likely target the very young and describe our organisms with the enthusiasm that brought us to Protistology to begin with, but which we often conceal.