Show Me the Bone; or, How the Victorians Made Their Dinosaurs

University of Leicester Inaugural Lecture Series

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Feb 24, 2015
from 05:30 PM to 06:30 PM



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Professor Gowan Dawson

School of English and Victorian Studies

In the nineteenth century paleontologists claimed that, from just a single bone, they could identify and sometimes even reconstruct previously unknown prehistoric creatures.  Their alleged boast was “show me the bone, and I will describe the animal”.  This lecture explores how, in Victorian Britain, paleontologists such as Richard Owen fashioned themselves as scientific wizards who could resurrect the extinct denizens of the ancient past from merely a glance at a fragmentary bone.  In particular, it will focus on the life-sized brick-and-mortar models of dinosaurs built in the 1850s at the Crystal Palace in Sydenham, South London.  The huge three-dimensional prehistoric monsters that lurked in the gardens at Sydenham show how nineteenth-century culture, from stage-managed news reports and fashionable serial novels to new forms of visual education and entertainment, helped shape the science of paleontology and played a crucial ole in how the Victorians made their dinosaurs.

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