Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Melanie Keene's "Science in Wonderland"

Melanie Keene is a historian of science for children, based at Homerton College, Cambridge. She has published several academic and popular articles on scientific books and objects from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries, on topics from candles, pebbles, or cups of tea, to board games, toy sets, and model dinosaurs.

Keene applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Science in Wonderland: The scientific fairy tales of Victorian Britain, and reported the following:
Serendipitously, page 99 of Science in Wonderland is about beginnings. Part of a chapter on ‘familiar fairylands’, which explores how drops of water were used to baptise new members of the scientific community, it quotes from the introduction to Arabella Buckley’s 1879 Fairy-Land of Science, a key text that is analysed throughout the book. How were her readers to enter this fairyland of science? The answer, it transpired, was to look again at the surrounding world: like ‘the knight or the peasant in the fairy tales, you must open your eyes’. ‘For Buckley’, I write:
children could learn about science through stories, told with and about the plenitude of illustrious objects at hand in the Victorian home and garden: a piece of coal, a primrose, a sunbeam, a bee, or a drop of water.
Buckley encouraged her young audience to investigate the hidden mysteries of their surrounding world: she used the conceit of a fairyland of science to emphasise the scientific processes at work in the everyday environment. These ‘true’ fairies, she argued, provided just as wonderful (and, for her, just as spiritual) transformations, creatures, powers, or histories, than any fictional counterparts. In its emphasis on active engagement in the sciences, in the power of invisible forces, in comparing scientific practitioners to figures from fairy tales, and in looking again at supposedly common objects, Page 99 summarises well the themes of Science in Wonderland: it therefore provides a very appropriate way in to the book, as well as to the Fairy-Land of Science itself.
Learn more about Science in Wonderland at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue