Nervous Conditions

Science and the Body Politic in Early Industrial Britain

By Elizabeth Green Musselman

Subjects: British Studies
Series: SUNY series in Science, Technology, and Society, SUNY series, Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century
Paperback : 9780791466803, 288 pages, January 2007
Hardcover : 9780791466797, 288 pages, March 2006

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Examines nineteenth-century scientists’ obsession with nerves and the nervous system.


Nervous Conditions explores the role of the body in the development of modern science, challenging the myth that modern science is built on a bedrock of objectivity and confident empiricism. In this fascinating look into the private world of British natural philosophers—including John Dalton, Lord Kelvin, Charles Babbage, John Herschel, and many others—Elizabeth Green Musselman shows how the internal workings of their bodies played an important part in the sciences' movement to the center of modern life, and how a scientific community and a nation struggled their way into existence.

Many of these natural philosophers endured serious nervous difficulties, particularly vision problems. They turned these weaknesses into strengths, however, by claiming that their well-disciplined mental skills enabled them to transcend their bodily frailties. Their adeptness at transcendence, they asserted, explained why men of science belonged at the heart of modern life, and qualified them to address such problems as unifying the British provinces into one nation, managing the industrial workplace, and accommodating religious plurality.

Elizabeth Green Musselman is Associate Professor of History at Southwestern University.