Tuning into nature in interwar Britain: the life sciences on film and radio – Max Long (Faculty of History)

When:
December 2, 2019 @ 1:00 pm – 2:00 pm
2019-12-02T13:00:00+00:00
2019-12-02T14:00:00+00:00
Where:
Seminar Room 1
Department of History and Philosophy of Science

The history of popular science in Britain remains relatively unexplored for the early 20th century. In particular, the relationship between new media and existing print cultures deserves closer attention. Plants, animals and other natural subjects were staples of the mass media of film and radio during the interwar years. _Secrets of Nature_, for example, was one of the most successful short film series of its time. The series covered a wide range of natural history subjects and was made with the collaboration of scientists like Peter Chalmers Mitchell, Julian Huxley and Edward Salisbury. These individuals, and others like them, believed in the potential for new media technologies to communicate scientific knowledge to a wide public. In the BBC, natural history broadcasts were considered an ideal vehicle for education, such as in children’s programmes and school broadcasts. The BBC’s output during this time also included adult talks about the life sciences, as well as Ludwig Koch’s unique recordings of birdsong. In this paper, I examine film and radio to ask two principal questions. First, what versions of ‘nature’ were predominant in new media representations of the life sciences, and who was responsible for defining these? The negotiations between producers and scientific advisers are crucial to understanding the kinds of films and broadcasts which characterise this period. Secondly, I will address the differences between scientific film and radio interventions in popular culture, and how these relate to popular experiences of the natural world in interwar Britain.