Victorians and the Prehistoric


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Tracks to a Lost World

Michael Freeman

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As the Victorians excavated the earth to create canals and railways in the early part of the nineteenth century, geological discoveries brought to light new narratives of the prehistoric, ideas that resounded in British society, art, and literature of the period. This engaging and generously illustrated book explores the Victorian fascination with all things prehistoric.

Michael Freeman shows how men and women were both energized and unsettled by the realization that the formation of the earth over hundreds of millions of years and Darwin’s theories about the origins of life contradicted what they had read in the Bible. He describes the rock and fossil collecting craze that emerged, the sources of inspiration and imagery discovered by writers and artists, and the new importance of geologists and paleontologists. He also discusses the cathedral-like museums that sprang up in cities and towns, shrines to all that was progressive in the age but still clothed in the trappings of traditional ideas.

Michael Freeman, supernumerary fellow and lecturer in human geography at Mansfield College, Oxford, is also the author of Railways and the Victorian Imagination, published by Yale University Press.

“This book follows numerous intellectual threads, eventually tying them together in clever and provocative ways. Alice in Wonderland, for example, is compared to The Origin of Species to show the cultural milieu within which science flourished alongside literature and the arts in ways lost long ago. Highly recommended.”—Choice

"This is a wide-ranging book that effectively conveys the Victorian struggle to come to terms with new ideas and evidence about the prehistoric world. . . . [Freeman] avoids engaging in academic debates in the body of the text.  This helps keep the text fast-flowing and easily readable.  Indeed, this is not a book written solely for the cultural historian, the historian of science or historical geographer (although I think they will all get a lot from this), but aims rather at a general and informed reader."—Simon Naylor, Journal of Historical Geography

"An engaging history of British Victorian paleontology."—Taxon

Shortlisted for the Katharine Briggs Folklore Award 2005, awarded by the Foklore Society.
ISBN: 9780300103342
Publication Date: August 11, 2004
320 pages, 6 3/4 x 9 5/8
105 b/w + 27 color illus.
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