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John Lubbock FRS, 1st Baron Avebury. Detail from drawing by George Richmond.
History of science conference on the life and work of John Lubbock FRS, first Baron Avebury.
Sir John Lubbock FRS, later Lord Avebury, is frequently noted for his close relationship with Charles Darwin and his friendship with other better-remembered contemporaries, such as his X-Club compatriots T. H. Huxley and J. D. Hooker. However, in recent years there has been increasing interest in Lubbock in his own right. Lubbock was one of the last gentlemen scientists and a great populariser of science. His popular science works on entomology, zoology and natural history went through several reprints and he was praised as an author for a general audience as well as honoured as a man of science – evident in his election to Fellowship of scientific societies, and his roles as President of the British Association and Linnean Society and Vice-President of the Royal Society. However, Lubbock was not a professional scientist, and his scientific achievements were coupled with social and political triumphs. He was a banker and a politician, and the Ancient Monuments Acts of 1882 and 1901 were his work, as were the Bank Holidays Act of 1871 and some 30 other bills. This interdisciplinary conference will commemorate the centenary of his death in 2013 and provide a showcase for the rising interest in this oft-forgot figure of Victorian science by examining Lubbock’s work and his influence over a range of areas and disciplines.
On the evening of Thursday 21 March delegates will also have the opportunity to attend a private viewing of the English Heritage exhibition, ‘The General, The Scientist & the Banker: The Birth of Archaeology and the Battle for the Past’, held at the Quadriga Gallery at Wellington Arch.
Biographies of the speakers are available below and you can also download the programme (PDF). Recorded audio of the presentations will be available on this page after the event.
This event is open to all, but there are a limited number of places and registration is essential. A registration fee of £42 or £30 (student/unwaged) will be charged; this includes a sandwich lunch and morning and afternoon refreshments. There is a separate fee of £10 for the exhibition viewing and drinks reception at the Quadriga Gallery at Wellington Arch on Thursday 21 March.
Enquiries: Contact the events team.
Dr John Clark, University of St AndrewsJohn Lubbock and the march of progress
John Lubbock, first Baron Avebury, banker, and long-serving MP, is perhaps best remembered as the father of the Bank Holidays Act (1871), but he was also an anthropologist, archaeologist, and entomologist. With strong Darwinian sympathies, he spent a considerable part of his career in search of an evolutionary mental continuum between human beings and other non-human animals. This secular scientific agenda allied him with Darwin’s bulldog, T.H. Huxley; and it led him to construct unique artificial ants’ nests and to teach a dog to ‘read’. Moreover, it inspired him to take a live wasp while on holiday in the Pyrenees and to tame it, like a savage civilized. To understand the multi-faceted life of John Lubbock, we must appreciate that he promoted a professional ideal of a science of progress in order to buttress the cultural authority of a ‘generalist’, liberal intellectual aristocracy. Lubbock marshalled his columns of ants to lead a progressive march towards the ‘moral regeneration of mankind’.
John Clark was born and raised in Canada, and educated at the University of Western Ontario (BA Hons), the University of Toronto (MA), and the University of Oxford (DPhil). He held a Canadian SSHRC-funded postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Oxford before taking up a Wellcome Lectureship in the History of Medicine and the Life Sciences at the University of Kent, Canterbury. He subsequently moved to the University of St Andrews to become director of the Institute for Environmental History, where he oversees the interdisciplinary postgraduate programme in Environmental History, and is a lecturer in the School of History. His research and publications have focused on environmental history, the history of natural history, comparative psychology, gender and science, and the history of medicine. From 2001-5, he was the (Associate) Director of the AHRC Research Centre for Environmental History (with Stirling University). He directed a major research initiative in environmental history, focusing upon the history of waste in Britain. This research was organized around three on-going projects: ‘The Language of Waste’; ‘Recycling and Trash Culture’; and ‘The Management of Household Waste in Britain’. He continues to work on the history of waste, in addition to a broader research project on the history of environmentalism.
Dr Matthew Eddy, University of DurhamSavage minds: John Lubbock, educational reform and the political economy of cognition
In 1870 Parliament introduced compulsory elementary education to England. Over the next decade it passed several acts that provided funding and resources for schools founded to educate the working class. The acts were introduced by the Gladstone government and were fiercely debated by liberals and conservatives. Despite the disagreements between politicians, however, the cognitive model that underpinned their view of education was the same. This model drew a direct analogy between the mental capacities of children and the mental capacities of uncivilised or even prehistoric ‘savages’. The core difference between the moral minds of adults and the amoral minds of children, therefore, was the presence of literacy and numeracy. Consequently, education was treated as a form of cognitive conditioning that fostered the kind of morality that had produced democracy, capitalism and Christianity. One of the champions of this quintessentially Victorian conception of cognition was the liberal politician Sir John Lubbock, who was elected Member of Parliament in 1870. His expertise in the fields of economics, scientific education and prehistory made him a uniquely qualified cultural commentator on educational issues. This aspect of his career has received little attention and this paper investigates how he used his scientific expertise in conjunction with Victorian notions of cognition to frame his views on the utility of establishing primary and secondary schools for the working class.
Matthew D. Eddy is Durham University's Senior Lecturer in the history of science and culture. As an intellectual historian, his research focuses on seventeenth- to nineteenth-century forms of scientific representation and argumentation, including historical conceptions of mind, memory, matter, time, language, visuality, informatics, human origins and religion. His honours include research fellowships awarded by MIT, Harvard, the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin, the British Arts and Humanities Research Council and UCLA’s Clark Library, as well as a Mellon Foundation visiting professorship awarded by California Institute of Technology.
Dr Janet OwenFrom Down House to Avebury: John Lubbock's journey into Darwin's scientific world through the eyes of his collection
When John Lubbock died on 28th May 1913, he left an estate that included an assortment of prehistoric stone tools and ethnographic artefacts displayed on the walls at High Elms and stuffed away in drawers and boxes. At first glance, this seemingly eclectic mix appears to reflect a 'cabinet of curiosities' style of interest in antiquities and the exotic. However, scratch beneath the surface of its history and this collection tells a fascinating story of a man inspired by Darwin to become one of the first intellectuals in Victorian Britain to examine the controversial subject of human antiquity and natural selection. From the first acquisitions of Danish Neolithic axes to the purchase of land containing the Avebury stone circle, this paper will explore how a study of his collections (many now housed at the British Museum and Bromley Museum) shed new insight into the archaeological biography of John Lubbock; and his role in the wider debate on evolution which shook the scientific and intellectual world in the late nineteenth century.
Following on from a degree in Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Cambridge, Janet Owen has spent the last twenty years as a museum professional, during which time she was awarded a PhD from the University of Durham in 2000 for her work on the collecting activities of John Lubbock. She is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and an Associate of the Museums Association. Janet is presently Head of Arts and Museums at Hampshire County Council. She has also worked as a lecturer at the University of Leicester, Arts and Heritage Manager at Southampton City Council, and Head of Curatorial Group at the National Maritime Museum.
Dr Alison Pearn, University of CambridgeThe teacher taught? What Darwin got from Lubbock
From the moment of Charles Darwin's arrival in Down as the 8-year-old John Lubbock's neighbour, the relationship between the two has been characterised as one of teacher and pupil, yet by the time Darwin published On the Origin of Species Lubbock was a fledgling naturalist in his own right. Two citations to Lubbock's work in the first edition of Origin became eight by the fourth, and by the time Darwin's Descent of Man appeared in 1871, Lubbock had beaten Darwin into print in the field of human behaviour and evolutionary history. The appearance of The Origin of Civilisation and the Primitive Condition of Man as Darwin was finishing Descent, further upset the most famous upset stomach of the nineteenth century: "I have read 4 or 5 Chapters with extreme interest," Darwin wrote, "too much interest for the good of my internal viscera. . . . I shall be able & must modify what I have written"; the resulting index entry for Lubbock in Descent is among the longest. What can their surviving correspondence reveal about the changing nature of their professional relationship, and the changing personal relationship against which it was set? There are few other people whose company Darwin so actively sought out, and their frequent meetings leave tantalising gaps in the documentary record, but, whether it was relying on Lubbock for support in lobbying parliament, or for advice on his son's banking career, or as mediator in a dispute with the local vicar, it seems Darwin was increasingly the beneficiary in the private sphere also.
Alison Pearn is Associate Director of the Darwin Project, University of Cambridge. She joined the Darwin Project in 1996. Her background is in history, with a BA from Oxford, and a PhD from Cambridge. She curated the University Library’s Darwin Bicentenary exhibition, and edited a companion book, A Voyage Round the World: Charles Darwin and the Beagle Collections of the University of Cambridge (CUP 2009). She is responsible for the day-to-day management of all aspects of the Darwin Project, including its outreach programme, gives both academic and popular lectures on its work, and has appeared on radio programmes such as BBC Radio 4’s 'In our Time', and 'Woman’s Hour'. She has a particular interest in Darwin’s correspondence with James Crichton-Browne, superintendent of the West Riding Lunatic Asylum, Wakefield, Yorkshire.
Professor David Bridgland, University of DurhamRiver terraces: important for all sorts of reasons and still the province of the polymath
River terraces are one of the several environmental study areas in which John Lubbock, first Baron Avebury, was a pioneer. He recognized them to be sources of Palaeolithic artefacts and he also recognized the difference between these and artefacts from other (later) archaeological contexts. He also realised that the people responsible for the artefacts found in river terrace deposits had shared their world with prehistoric animals, the remains of which are found as fossils in the same deposits, as well as with beasts that no longer live in these valleys at the present time. Indeed, he is credited with having found the first British fossil musk ox, in Thames gravels at Maidenhead, a find (written up by Richard Owen) that was of some importance in demonstrating the severity of ice-age conditions in Pleistocene Britain. This animal is now known to be characteristic of the Taplow Terrace of the Thames, which is well represented around Maidenhead (the type locality is nearby) and which represents the penultimate glacial, an episode of great climatic severity when ice reached its furthest extent on the nearby continent. This, then, was the provenance of Lubbock’s first fossil of Ovibos mochatus.
There are rich resources of both artefacts and mammal remains from river terraces in Britain and other parts of the world, albeit mostly assembled in the days of manual quarry excavation. More recent work has concentrated on smaller-sized fossil types that can be washed from sediment samples, such as molluscs, insects (another interest of Lubbock’s) and pollen, and these have provided important evidence for dating the river terraces and for determining the environments and climatic phases represented. River terraces record the progressive incision by rivers into the landscape, thus documenting past valley floors at higher relative levels as well as differing valley shapes. In recent years this incision has been modelled mathematically and has provided an insight into the variation of crustal properties, in terms of which different histories of landscape evolution can be explained. Thus the study of river terrace calls for multi-disciplinary teamwork, potentially involving geomorphology, geology, sedimentology, stratigraphy, palaeontology, archaeology and mathematical modelling.
David Bridgland is Professor in the Department of Geography at Durham University. His expertise and principal area of research experience is in Quaternary science, with emphasis on fluvial sequences. His early work was on the River Thames, which has a Quaternary sequence of international importance, and its tributary, the Medway. This grounding provided a platform for a number of initiatives aimed at broadening his research into an international sphere, once he became established in Durham. His earth-science interests have always overlapped with the oldest divisions of the archaeological record, perhaps because the Lower and Middle Palaeolithic archives from the Thames system are so extensive; his research in this area led to the award of the Henry Stopes Memorial Medal of the Geologists' Association in 2003, for 'on the Prehistory of Man and his geological environment'.
Professor Paul Pettitt, University of DurhamLubbock, caves, and the development of Middle and Upper Palaeolithic Archaeology
When Lubbock defined the term 'Palaeolithic' in Pre-Historic Times (1865) enough excavations had occurred in caves and rockshelters to reveal their importance as receptacles of information about what we would now term the Middle and Upper Palaeolithic. By this decade too, one could distinguish between this record and that of river terraces, which largely contained evidence of older, and more primitive human activity. In this paper we review Lubbock's treatment of this emerging resource on a European scale, and his concept of Neanderthal and 'Cro-Magnon' behaviour that emerged from it. What exactly did Lubbock contribute to the emerging understanding of 'primitive' humans of the period that he had named? We illustrate our discussion with examples from his published work, archives and from publications available to him at the time he was preparing Pre-Historic Times.
This paper is prepared in collaboration with Dr Mark White, Reader in the Department of Archaeology, University of Durham.
Paul Pettitt is Professor in the Department of Archaeology at the University of Durham. Following his doctoral research on Neanderthal behaviour at Cambridge he became Staff Archaeologist (latterly Senior Archaeologist) at the Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit, University of Oxford (1995-2001) and was Douglas Price Junior Research Fellow (1997-2000) and Research Fellow and Tutor in Archaeology and Anthropology (2000-2003) at Keble College, Oxford. His research interests include Palaeolithic mortuary activity, Neanderthal behaviour, Upper Paleolithic art, Lithic technology, Radiocarbon dating and Palaeolithic archaeology. Current research projects and collaborations include 'Hand Stencils in the Upper Palaeolithic cave art of France and Spain' (Leverhulme Trust funded), and 'LA-ICP MS trace element analysis of British Late Upper Palaeolithic lithics and the reconstruction of hunter-gatherer movement patterns' (in collaboration with Dr M. Rockman (University of California) and Dr S. Chennery (British Geological Survey)). He is directing excavations outside Church Hole, Creswell Crags.
Professor William E. Friedman, Harvard University.The botanical contributions of John Lubbock
Sir John Lubbock is renowned for his legislative accomplishments (Bank Holidays), his tireless efforts to understand and protect archaeological sites (Pre-Historic Times, On the Origin of Civilization; Ancient Monuments Act), and his entomological contributions to science. He is distinctly less well remembered as the author of many papers and several major tomes on botany, particularly in the field of plant morphology. Lubbock was led to a more focused interest in plants by his studies of insect pollination and the coevolution of insects and plants, (beginning with his book On British Wild Flowers Considered in Relation to Insects, 1875). For this (as well as other contributions), Lubbock is credited with popularizing the natural history of flowers in the late nineteenth century. I will examine Lubbock’s impact and intellectual position in the history of the science of plant morphology through his two major contributions to the study and description of plant form: A Contribution to Our Knowledge of Seedlings (1892) and On Buds and Stipules (1899). Both of these extensive works contain an abundance of new and primary observations of plant form and development. I will then address the question of whether Lubbock’s general lack of historical stature in plant morphology is a result of his being one of the last of a generation of “amateur,” yet highly productive and influential, natural historians or is more deeply rooted in the very essence of his morphological writings.
This paper was prepared in collaboration with Professor Pamela K. Diggle, University of Colorado.
William Friedman is Arnold Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University. His research programme focuses on the organismic interfaces between developmental, phylogenetic and evolutionary biology. Within the past fifteen years, remarkable advances in the study of the phylogenetic relationships of plants have provided the raw materials for critical studies of character evolution. Armed with hypotheses of relationships among organisms, he seeks to explore how patterns of morphology, anatomy and cell biology have evolved through the modification of developmental processes. His work is primarily focused on the origin and subsequent diversification of flowering plants, Darwin's "abominable mystery."
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