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Laura Brassington

Laura Brassington

Department: History and Philosophy of Science

Supervisors: Professor Jim Secord and Dr Anne Secord

College: King's

AHRC subject area: History

Title of Thesis: Considering Nineteenth-Century Hierarchies through Charles Darwin's Correspondence


In the nineteenth century, British naturalists depended heavily upon correspondence networks to exchange information and specimens. The importance of these networks to the most eminent figures has been widely acknowledged; yet the networks of working-class naturalists have been afforded much less consideration. Most historiography on working-class intellectual life uses working-class autobiographies to focus on the literary pursuits of these men and women in the nineteenth century. I began interrogating these historiographical assumptions whilst completing my undergraduate dissertation at St Andrews. In this project, I looked at the Banksian Natural History Society, a group based in Manchester between 1829 and 1836. Typically addressed as a working-class collective, I used the Banksians’ Transactions and other archival material to consider how the Society actually brought together gentleman and artisans through a mutual interest in science. Through my research, I have come to understand science as a social construct; what is accepted as knowledge is determined by the social relations of its proponents. I have continued to interrogate these assumptions through further archival projects, including my MPhil dissertation. This will form the basis of the first chapter of my PhD, in which I will consider the correspondence between working-class men and Charles Darwin.

Other academic interests

I have also co-convened Cambridge Women in Philosophy (2016-17) and Cambridge Minorities and Philosophy (2017-present).