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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Dr Matthew Eddy

IAS Fellow, Durham University (January - March 2016)

Matthew Daniel Eddy is Senior Lecturer in the History and Philosophy of Science at Durham University. He specializes in the scientific and the intellectual culture of Britain and the British Empire from the Enlightenment to World War I. His first book, John Walker, Chemistry and the Edinburgh Medical School 1750-1800, traced the cultural origins of environmental science in relation to the scholarly traditions of aspiring middle-class students and intellectuals. His forthcoming book, Science, Graphic Culture and the Scottish Enlightenment, focuses on how children and adolescents used reading, writing and drawing techniques to manage information on paper. Concentrating on graphic tools like diagrams, tables and notebooks, it argues for a new visual approach to the social and intellectual history of the late Enlightenment.

Dr Eddy’s IAS project focuses on the evidence used to reconstruct and analyze the everyday experiences of 18th and 19th century childhood. More specifically, it examines the kinds of scientific evidence that was used to make laws which regulated the lives of children. Particular attention will be paid to the ways in which British Parliamentary select committees used scientific experts to inform the recommendations they made regarding child-centred laws on literacy and mental health. More broadly, his project assesses the evidentiary foundations being used to analyse childhood across the humanities, sciences and social sciences.

A council member of the British Society for the History of Science as well as the Society for the History of Alchemy and Chemistry, Dr Eddy has won fellowships from MIT, Harvard, the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin, UCLA’s Clark Library, the California Institute of Technology, and Durham University’s Institute of Advanced Study. He has assisted on numerous documentaries aired on the BBC and has organised or curated events at venues ranging from the Library of the Royal Society of London to local museums in northern England. He also has served on advisory boards of projects being run by the AHRC, the Netherlands National Research Council, the Greek Ministry of Education, and others.

Public Lecture - Rewriting Childhood: science, education and the graphic foundations of knowledge

The history of childhood has become an important field of study in recent years. One of its exciting characteristics is that it attracts researchers from a rich variety of disciplines. Yet, despite this popularity, histories of pre-Victorian childhood often struggle to engage directly with evidence that was made or (conclusively) used by girls and boys, either in specialised settings or on a daily basis. This paper seeks to develop and extend the material and visual history of childhood by focusing on the kinds of graphic evidence made or used by children in British educational settings from circa 1760 to 1820. The term ‘graphic’ will be interpreted widely to mean the skills or materials used to manually represent knowledge on paper (or similar forms of media) through writing or drawing. Addressing topics relevant to both the sciences and humanities, the paper seeks to expand the evidentiary foundation of late Enlightenment childhood by showing that there was a variety of graphic genres and that the acts of writing and drawing were treated as important knowledge-making activities in their own right.

Listen to the lecture in full.

IAS Insights Paper


What kinds of evidence can we use to historicise childhood? In this essay I answer this question by summarising and then problematising the kinds of books, art and objects used by scholars since the eighteenth century to understand the lives of children. One of the points that I wish to underscore is that a profound evidentiary shift has occurred in recent decades. The shift, I suggest, is motivated by a rising scholarly interest in childmade evidence, that is, objects definitively used and made by children on an everyday basis. When viewed in light of a child’s historical context, such evidence can be used to gain insight into the developmental foundations of the modern world.


Vol 10 Article 15