Richard Owen: Victorian Naturalist | National Humanities Center

Work of the Fellows: Biographies

Richard Owen: Victorian Naturalist

By Nicolaas A. Rupke (NHC Fellow, 1988–89)

History of Science; Evolution; Naturalism; Natural History; Victorian Era; Richard Owen

New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1994

From the publisher’s description:

Richard Owen (1804-92) was, after Darwin, the leading naturalist of nineteenth-century Britain. A distinguished anatomist and paleontologist, he was influential in Victorian scientific reform and in the debate over natural selection. Leader of the nineteenth-century museum movement, he founded London's monumental Natural History Museum, wrote and published copiously, and won every professional honor. This first full-fledged biography of Owen presents the complete range of his scientific and intellectual achievements.

Nicolaas Rupke discusses Owen's epic power struggles with colleagues, the most notorious of which were with Darwin and Huxley. As a renowned opponent of natural selection, Owen became the bête noire of the Darwinian evolution debate. Rupke argues, however, that Owen should no longer be judged by the evolution dispute that was only a minor part of his work yet has come to dominate his memory. Instead, Rupke emphasizes and throws new light on a wide area of Owen's other activities. In particular, he explains the central division in Owen's scientific oeuvre between the functionalism of Oxbridge natural theology and the transcendentalism of German nature philosophy. Rupke shows that this was a fundamental extension of the intellectual and political maneuvering for control of Victorian cultural institutions and an inextricable part of the rise to public authority of the most articulate proponents of the scientific study of nature.

Science / History of Science / Evolution / Naturalism / Natural History / Victorian Era / Richard Owen /

Rupke, Nicolaas A. (NHC Fellow, 1988–89). Richard Owen: Victorian Naturalist. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1994.