University of Oxford

Recreative Science: Record and Remembrancer of Intellectual Observation (1860-62)

Published on by Sally Shuttleworth

The Science Gossip project was led by Dr Geoffrey Belknap, and the articles on the periodicals were written by Dr Matthew Wale.

Recreative Science was a short-lived periodical (even by  nineteenth-century standards), and as its title suggests, it was aimed  at a broad audience who were interested in natural history as an  enjoyable hobby. In the introduction to the first issue, written in  particularly flowery language, it proclaimed that 'this is an age of  invention and discovery, and the meanest affairs of life, equally with  the noblest works of utility and elegance, are indebted to science'. It  was therefore hoped that encouraging the 'spirit of research' would  'help in the onward march of human advancement', but also provide  'repose and refreshment'.

In keeping with its stated aim, Recreative Science focused on  aspects of natural history and other branches of science that  readers  could try for themselves at home or in their local area. One of the  earliest articles gave instructions on 'how to gather diatoms', a type  of microscopic algae found in all bodies of water throughout the world.  These single-cell organisms are protected by shells of silica, which  occur in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and colours. As microscopes  were becoming increasingly affordable for Victorian households, the  beautiful structures of diatoms were a particularly popular subject of  study. They could be collected at the seaside or from shallow streams,  and the Recreative Science article helpfully provides an  illustration of the necessary equipment, which included some more  specialist gear (a 'Coddington' magnifying lens) and less sophisticated items ('an old spoon'). The following issue contained a follow-up  article explaining how the diatoms should be prepared for viewing  through a microscope.

Regular features included meteorological and astronomical observations  made by the wealthy man of science Edward Joseph Lowe (1825-1900) from  his observatory in Nottingham, and 'Things of the Season' listed such  occurrences for that month as the arrival and departure of migratory  birds and the flowering of plants. Readers could then compare their own  results with those of Lowe, and were alerted as to which species to look  out for. Despite the widespread popularity of science as a pastime, Recreative Science  presumably struggled to find a sufficient audience to support its  publication, as it was discontinued in 1862. However, it was  reconfigured and launched again as the Intellectual Observer later that year. 

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