Identifier

etd-04082016-011901

Degree

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

History

Document Type

Thesis

Abstract

Alfred Russel Wallace, a Victorian naturalist, firmly believed that based on his own extensive research there were theories that could effectively provide a means of studying the natural world and improving society. Although he became a respected naturalist his interests in mesmerism, socialism, and spiritualism disconnected him from the mainstream scientific community. Following the tradition of early nineteenth-century naturalists, Wallace was self-trained and self-educated, traits that allowed him to study multiple fields of interests and conduct personal experimentations. In these formative years, he was influenced by British popular culture, interactions with the working class and the latest trends of intellectual curiosities. These impressions remained with Wallace throughout his scientific career and years of political activism. In 1844, he attended public lectures with the working class at the Mechanics’ Institute in Leicester where he witnessed mesmeric demonstrations performed by professionals and amateurs. After conducting experiments he became convinced such techniques were valid methods of researching the natural world. Wallace was critical of professional naturalists who shunned new research merely because it originated from unconventional individuals. As a land surveyor, Wallace witnessed the unjust seizure of Welsh lands, an experience that pushed him to later advocate for the social rights of the working class. In 1889, Wallace declared himself a socialist with the intention of promoting the benefits of land nationalization to correct social injustices such as Britain’s land policies. He became a devoted supporter of spiritualism, a choice that created a professional rift between him and his fellow British naturalists. This thesis will demonstrate that Wallace’s personal experiences throughout his formative years from 1823-1848 influenced his scientific research and personal convictions. Wallace’s formative years shaped his perception as a naturalist dedicated to empiricism and the accumulation of facts to support his theories. As a self-trained naturalist, he relied firmly on his observations and experiments to draw his conclusions. Wallace’s further skepticism of socially privileged naturalists persuaded him that all discoveries should be equally considered despite their unconventional origins. Wallace’s formative years shaped his perception as a naturalist dedicated to empiricism and the accumulation of facts to support his theories.

Date

2016

Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Veldman, Meredith

Included in

History Commons

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