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John Gould: The story of the Bird Man and how the Victorians discovered the natural world

Indoor Event, 7pm
Great North Museum, Newcastle

John Gould is a man often forgotten. Eclipsed by the giants of Darwinism, Gould – ‘the Bird Man’ – has been consigned to an earlier scientific tradition. It is the way of science to forget those who do not fit easily into the current way of thinking. Yet between 1830 and his death in 1881, Gould was one of Britain’s most visible scientific luminaries. His books depicting the birds of the world were celebrated for their beauty, on a par with even the great Audubon. A man of many parts, an artist and explorer, a naturalist and publisher, Gould’s folio works provide us with a valuable insight into how Victorian society viewed the world around it.
In this lecture we will trace the development of Britain’s fascination with the natural world prior to the great upheavals of the 1850s and 1860s, and see how Gould fitted into the wider scientific and cultural environment. We will see which sections of society were attracted to Gould’s work and why it has exerted a lasting attraction beyond the nineteenth century. In so doing, we will arrive at a more complete picture of one of the most important, formative periods in British scientific history.

David Lowther is a PhD student of History at Newcastle University, specialising in the history and philosophy of science. His interest in John Gould stems from his own activities as a wildlife artist. Elected to the Linnean Society in 2011, he has produced work for use by the RSPB and International Crane Foundation, and has exhibited widely in the U.K. and U.S.A