Dr Simon Naylor. Photo by James Ram.

Geographer celebrates history of Cornish science

A geographer from the University of Exeter's Cornwall Campus has written the first full-length book14 on the history of science in Cornwall.

Dr Simon Naylor is originally from the Cornish town of Camborne and has spent the last 10 years researching the history of Cornish science during the nineteenth century.

His book, Regionalizing Science: Placing Knowledges in Victorian England, is published by Pickering & Chatto.

The book draws together the historic activities of all the major scientific societies in the county, including the Royal Institution of Cornwall, the Royal Geological Society of Cornwall and the Royal Polytechnic Society of Cornwall. Individual chapters deal with different scientific pursuits, including geology, botany, zoology, antiquarianism and meteorology. The book also considers the lives and work of a range of notable Cornish scientists, such as William Borlase, Jonathan Couch, Elizabeth Warren, Henry Boase, John Ralfs, and Charles Peach.

Dr Naylor conducted his research in libraries and archives across Cornwall but also at institutions such as the Natural History Museum and Kew Gardens in London, the Met Office in Exeter, and McGill University in Canada.

Cornwall was one of the first counties in the country to be mapped geologically and its geological society was the first provincial society of its kind in Britain. The county’s prehistoric remains attracted a great deal of attention from antiquarians and Cornwall was also an important site for the study of flora and fauna. In 1867, the county was chosen as the location of one of seven 'first-order' meteorological observatories established by the Royal Society of London to help improve Britain’s weather forecasts. Cornwall also had a flourishing local scientific scene, with a number of museums, regular evening gatherings, field excursions and grand exhibitions.

Dr Simon Naylor says: “Cornwall’s historic contribution to mining and engineering is well known and celebrated. I hope my book shows the significant, but overlooked, contribution made by my home county to the development of science as well. This tradition is something we should be just as proud of. We should also be proud of the contribution that Cornwall continues to make to studies of the natural world – from environmental studies conducted by local societies in our unique natural surroundings to the world-class research being carried out at the University of Exeter’s Tremough Campus.”

Dr Simon Naylor is a senior lecturer in historical geography, based in the University of Exeter’s School of Geography on the Cornwall Campus. After growing up in Camborne, Simon left Cornwall to study at the University of Wales and University of Keele before working at the Universities of Oxford and Bristol. He returned to Cornwall when he joined the University of Exeter in 2007 and he now lives with his wife in Penryn. Dr Naylor is one of several University of Exeter academics, originally from Cornwall, to return to the county to work on the Cornwall Campus (known locally as 'Tremough).

Date: 13 April 2010

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