Listening and Learning? Audiences and Their Roles in Nineteenth-Century Britain

  • Sophie Forgan


Lectures, wrote the Oxford don Mark Pattison in 1885, were commonly regarded as ‘a joke or a bore, contemned by the more advanced, shirked by the backward’, a view which was, and remains, a commonplace (Pattison 1885: 53). Generations of undergraduates continued to complain of the awful dullness of lectures, of whom Darwin was only the most famous (de Beer 1983: 25, 28). However, lectures were not just addressed to bored students. In the nineteenth century the public lecture was one of the most favoured means of reaching audiences, and formed a key element in the business of producing and disseminating knowledge. It was to be found in a huge variety of institutions, from elite learned societies to humble mechanics institutes.


Nineteenth Century Royal Institution Knowledge Society Lecture Theatre Woman Author 
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© Sophie Forgan 2005

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  • Sophie Forgan

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