Science, scientific Intellectuals, and British culture in the early atomic age: a case study of George Orwell, Jacob Bronowski, P.M.S. Blackett and J.G. Crowther

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Title: Science, scientific Intellectuals, and British culture in the early atomic age: a case study of George Orwell, Jacob Bronowski, P.M.S. Blackett and J.G. Crowther
Authors: Desmarais, Ralph John
Item Type: Thesis or dissertation
Abstract: This dissertation proposes a revised understanding of the place of science in British literary and political culture during the early atomic era. It builds on recent scholarship that discards the cultural pessimism and alleged ‘two-cultures’ dichotomy which underlay earlier histories. Countering influential narratives centred on a beleaguered radical scientific Left in decline, this account instead recovers an early postwar Britain whose intellectual milieu was politically heterogeneous and culturally vibrant. It argues for different and unrecognised currents of science and society that informed the debates of the atomic age, most of which remain unknown to historians. Following a contextual overview of British scientific intellectuals active in mid-century, this dissertation then considers four individuals and episodes in greater detail. The first shows how science and scientific intellectuals were intimately bound up with George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four (1949). Contrary to interpretations portraying Orwell as hostile to science, Orwell in fact came to side with the views of the scientific right through his active wartime interest in scientists’ doctrinal disputes; this interest, in turn, contributed to his depiction of Ingsoc, the novel’s central fictional ideology. Jacob Bronowski’s remarkable transition from pre-war academic mathematician and Modernist poet to a leading postwar BBC media don is then traced. A key argument is that rather than publicly engaging with actual relations of science and the British state, Bronowski actively downplayed the perils of nuclear weapons, instead promoting an idealist vision of science through his scientific humanism philosophy. Finally, the political activism of J.G. Crowther and P.M.S. Blackett are analysed, Crowther through his chairmanship of the Communist-linked British Peace Committee, and Blackett through his controversial book Military and Political Consequences of Atomic Energy (1948). In neither case, as might be expected, did their nuclear politics stem from scientific ideology but rather from personal convictions.
Issue Date: 2010
Date Awarded: Mar-2010
Supervisor: Edgerton, David
Sponsor/Funder: Arts and Humanities Research Council
Author: Desmarais, Ralph John
Department: Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine
Publisher: Imperial College London
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Qualification Name: Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Appears in Collections:School of Professional Development PhD theses

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