CPAS seminar: Martin Bush

‘Queen of Sciences’: Popular astronomy, religion and freethought in nineteenth century Australia and New Zealand

Astronomy has long been interpreted for popular audiences through the lens of the sublime. As a result it has been thought of as a science with particular relevance to both spiritual thought and atheism. In nineteenth century Australia and New Zealand, popular astronomy was a particularly prominent front in social debates between religion and freethought. This talk outlines some of the key incidents in this struggle, with a focus on the 1880 tour of British astronomer Richard Proctor. 

This work shows that while science communicators have long claimed to be motivated by epistemic concerns, successful popular scientists have always engaged cultural concerns, mobilised emotional responses and traded on notions of identity. 

Martin Bush is a Research Fellow in the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies at the University of Melbourne with expertise in the cultural history of popular science and professional experience in science communication and the museum sector. Particular interests include planetariums, public reasoning practices and the science communication work of the Ngarrindjeri Australian David Unaipon. His recent PhD from Swinburne University is on popular astronomy in Australia in the era of the lantern slide and his essay from the thesis on the Proctor-Parkes affair was a joint winner of the 2016 Mike Smith Student Prize for History of Australian Science.