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Michael Foster and the Cambridge School of Physiology: The Scientific Enterprise in Late Victorian Society

Michael Foster and the Cambridge School of Physiology: The Scientific Enterprise in Late Victorian Society

Gerald L. Geison
Copyright Date: 1978
Pages: 424
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  • Book Info
    Michael Foster and the Cambridge School of Physiology: The Scientific Enterprise in Late Victorian Society
    Book Description:

    Despite great ferment and activity among historians of science in recent years, the history of physiology after 1850 has received little attention. Gerald Geison makes an important contribution to our knowledge of this neglected area by investigating the achievements of English physiologists at the Cambridge School from 1870 to 1900. He describes individual scientists, their research, the scientific issues affecting their work, and socio-institutional influences on the group. He pays special attention to the personality and contributions of Michael Foster, founding father of the Cambridge School. Foster's specific research interest was the origin of the rhythmic heartbeat, and the author contends that the school itself descended from and developed around this concern.

    Originally published in 1978.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6911-4
    Subjects: Zoology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xv)
    Gerald L. Geison
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xvi-xx)
  5. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xxi-xxi)

    • 1. Introduction
      (pp. 3-12)

      Just over a a century ago, in May 1870, the Master and Senior Fellows of Trinity College, Cambridge, appointed Michael Foster praelector in physiology. Although Foster may have been wanted chiefly for collegiate rather than university purposes, he brought with him a broader vision and more ambitious aims. During the nineteenth century, no single appointment was to have greater importance for the development of the biological sciences in the English universities. It was the leading event in the revival of the great English physiological tradition inaugurated by William Harvey in the seventeenth century and represented by Stephen Hales in the...

    • 2. The Stagnancy of English Physiology, 1840-1870
      (pp. 13-47)

      By the early 1870’s Foster’s lament had been taken up by others, as there emerged among English students of physiology a general awareness that their country, the richest and most powerful in the world, had contributed little to the recent spectacular developments in physiology. In September 1870 Peter Braidwood, editor of theLiverpool Medical and Surgical Reports,sent a letter to Nature deploring the depressed state of British physiology. “Though foremost in many things,” he wrote, “Britain is far behind Continental countries in the field of physiological science.”² In 1872, when the British Association met at Brighton, John Scott Burdon...

    • 3. Foster on His Way to Cambridge
      (pp. 48-78)

      Michael foster sprang from yeoman stock. For generations his ancestors had farmed in Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire, between London and Cambridge. The Fosters were prominent in the cause of religious Nonconformity and liberty, and at one point several Foster brothers guarded the dell at Preston where the seventeenth-century Baptist leader John Bunyan preached to his persecuted sect. John Foster, Michael’s grandfather, settled in Holywell, a small Bedfordshire village near Hitchin, where he carried on the family tradition of religious activism and cultivated antiquarian tastes as well as crops. It was at Holywell, on 22 April 1810, that Michael Foster’s father (also...


    • 4. Foster Meets Cambridge: Trinity College, University Reform, and the Rise of Laboratory Science
      (pp. 81-115)

      When Foster came to Cambridge in 1870, he met a university in flux and transition, a university at which a growing spirit of reform was challenging institutional aims and practices taken for granted a generation before. Instead of viewing their positions as temporary way stations, usually on the road to a career in the church, college tutors increasingly looked forward to a full-time career in teaching. Instead of so often leaving Cambridge entirely, and so often using their awards as sinecures, the holders of college fellowships increasingly taught or performed other duties in college. Instead of accepting their hitherto peripheral...

    • 5. The Transformation of Biology in Late Victorian Cambridge: Foster, Huxley, and the Introduction of Laboratory Biology in England
      (pp. 116-147)

      Everyone who has examined Foster’s career has been struck by the range of his students’ interests. Gaskell and Sharpey-Schafer, among others, have emphasized the pains he took to ascertain the bent of mind in each of his students and then to groom each one for that branch of biology to which he seemed best adapted.² In the inaugural issue of Foster’sStudies from the Physiological Laboratory in the University of Cambridge,papers on histology, embryology, and physiological chemistry stand alongside more purely physiological investigations. This diversity persisted in the next two issues (1876, 1877), and by the end Foster thought...

    • 6. The Rise of Physiology in Late Victorian Cambridge: Ways and Means, 1870-1883
      (pp. 148-190)

      Apart from the striking difference between their institutional settings, Huxley and Foster differed in one other significant respect. Foster performed experiments on living organisms. According to Thisel-ton-Dyer, Foster tried to persuade Huxley to teach experimental physiology as part of the summer program at South Kensington, but without success.³ Huxley’s opposition probably derived partly from his conception of the function of the course. In his eyes, it had the same function as the School of Mines itself—to teach science to future schoolteachers. And since experimental biology, more particularly, experimental physiology, was considered too messy for schoolboys, their teachers presumably required...


    • 7. Foster as Research Physiologist: The Problem of the Heartbeat
      (pp. 193-235)

      In 1859, shortly after his graduation from medical school, Foster presented to the British Association the results of experiments he had performed on the snail’s heart.² The central concern of these experiments was the cause of the rhythmic contractions of the heart. For centuries physiologists had debated whether the heartbeat had its origins in nervous influences or rather arose from an inherent rhythmicity in cardiac muscle. The issue was as old as Galenic physiology and as new as James Paget’s Croonian Lecture before the Royal Society of London in 1857.³

      The dominant view until the nineteenth century can be traced...

    • 8. The Problem of the Heartbeat and the Rise of the Cambridge School
      (pp. 236-267)

      When, in the mid-1870’s Foster concentrated his efforts on the problem of the heartbeat, he was far from alone. A.G. Dew-Smith is only the most obvious of his Cambridge collaborators. Another, much less important, was Arthur Sheridan Lea, who conducted a histological investigation of the snail’s heart for Foster and Dew-Smith. Lea’s task was to determine whether any distinctly specialized nervous structures could be detected in the snail’s cardiac tissue. His conclusions—that no such structures could be found and, moreover, that no nerves entered or left the snail’s heart—were never published separately, but were simply incorporated into Foster...

    • 9. The Maturation of the Cambridge School: Gaskell’s Resolution of the Problem of the Heartbeat, 1881-1883
      (pp. 268-296)

      At the end of his 1880 paper on cardiovascular tonicity, Gaskell insisted that vasodilation could result from the direct effect of acidic metabolites on the muscular walls of the arteries. On this view, it was natural to wonder whether the vagus nerve might produce cardiac inhibition by releasing some unknown acidic metabolite which then acted directly on the cardiac musculature. And it was therefore natural that Gaskell should next undertake a thorough study of the action of the vagus nerve on the frog’s heart. In March 1881, he spoke of his ongoing research before the Cambridge Philosophical Society. He described...


    • 10. The Growth and Consolidation of the Cambridge School, 1883-1903: Foster in His More Familiar Entrepreneurial Role
      (pp. 299-327)

      In June 1883, just as Gaskell achieved his resolution of the problem of the heartbeat, Foster became the first professor of physiology at Cambridge. From then until his retirement in 1903, he directed his efforts mainly toward the consolidation, extension, promotion, and more complete organization of the school he had founded. To a certain extent, these efforts were bound up with his more general efforts on behalf of English physiology, and he did not always distinguish between the two. What was good for the Cambridge School was perforce good for English physiology, and vice versa. Not everyone else saw it...

    • 11. Concluding Reflections
      (pp. 328-364)

      Toward the end of his valuable and suggestive attempt to account for the success of Liebig’s school of chemistry at Giessen, J. B. Morrell concedes that his model “suffers from the limitation that it tends to be an idealizing rationalization of [that] success.”² My account of Foster’s school of physiology suffers from the same tendency, and perhaps more severely. For whereas Morrell identifies the factors in Liebig’s achievement partly by comparing his school with Thomas Thomson’s relatively unsuccessful school of chemistry at the University of Glasgow, I have made no systematic attempt to measure Foster’s accomplishment against that of competitors...

  10. Appendices

    • Appendix I Foster as “Inefficient Teacher”: The Debate over Clinical Teaching at Cambridge
      (pp. 365-366)
    • Appendix II Institutional Loci of Research Published in the Journal of Physiology, 1878-1900 (vols. 1-25)
      (pp. 367-369)
    • Appendix III Cambridge Graduates and Faculty Who Published Articles in the Journal of Physiology, 1878-1900
      (pp. 370-375)
    • Appendix IV Cambridge University Positions in Physiology, 1870-1910
      (pp. 376-377)
    • Appendix V Cambridge University Positions in Zoology, Comparative Anatomy, and Morphology, 1870-1910
      (pp. 378-379)
    • Appendix VI Cambridge University Positions in Pathology, Bacteriology, Biology, and Pharmacology, 1870-1910
      (pp. 380-380)
    • Appendix VII Cambridge University Positions in Botany, 1870-1910
      (pp. 381-381)
    • Appendix VIII Cambridge University Positions in Other Related Fields: Medicine, Anatomy, Agriculture, Ethnology, Anthropology, and Experimental Psychology, 1870-1910
      (pp. 382-384)
  11. Index of Authors Cited in Footnotes
    (pp. 385-388)
  12. General Index
    (pp. 389-401)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 402-402)