Science and Literature: A Tragic Love Story
Science and Literature, a combination we do not seem to put together much today. In higher levels of study, there is the humanities (including English) and science. Classified in two separate places. There is science writing; lab reports, observations, experiment procedures, data analysis, where there is a specific purpose. When a scientist writes a lab report, he/she is most likely not trying to explain how beautiful the experiment is, or has an underlying message in his procedure. Lab reports and science articles today are reserved for a direct explanation of how something works, how something failed, what something is, and how something may help something/someone. The writing style is not about the actual writing, but about the facts. It is a way to communicate discoveries to an audience, but most of the time, not the general audience.
In contrast to the science writing we see today, literature is focused on the words, message, emotion, style, art among many other things in a piece. Sure there could be true facts and discoveries in literature, but there’s a reason why the saying is “curl up with a good book” and not “curl up with a good lab report.” Literature is art in word form. It addresses many many audiences of all ages (can’t forget about board books) making it very accessible and enjoyed by the general public.
Because of two different directions science and literature have grown in, thinking of “science literature” as one is difficult to understand. Does that mean a lab report that’ll make me cry? A procedure that explains what is wrong with society? Of course not, instead, “science literature” is one of the most underrated “forms” of literature I’ve ever witnessed. During the 19th century science became more and more popular and also connected with the great writing of that time. After the Enlightenment, science and religion started to take different paths and science was revered as its own subject. No longer was God completely responsible for everything existing on the planet, but instead people turned more toward natural theology where science was the way that God created everything. This was a great interpretation because it allowed scientists to really dig into their work with the support of the general public.
The general public are very important at this time as well. Toward the beginning of the 19th century, Science and Literature were married and had the most beautiful baby of “science literature.” Emerson, Humboldt, Thoreau, were all big names making science come to life in their writings. They made the new discoveries understandable for common people and were mass educating society. The idea of bringing science into literature, and making new information accessible to all created a vast awareness for appreciating nature and seeing the world as a place where humans co-exist instead of owning it all and changing it for humans benefit, not caring about the other organisms it hurts. In addition, as discussed by Laura Dassow Walls, new textbooks and handbooks were published explaining botany and how anyone can do it which gave women another job outlet and an entrance to science where mostly men resided (18). Jobs were being created, and new career outlets explored. It was an important time for science.
However, with this new growing interest for science. The attention to making science an artful experience in which could be read by many started to become more and more blunt as new discoveries were churned out. By the mid 19th century, science had taken off to join the elite, and literature watched it go. Their child, “science literature” sat still in the middle becoming more and more invisible to popular culture only to be found again by high level English classes. Scientists no longer had the patience or desire to make their science artistic and science writing became what we think of it today.
Although science and literature didn’t last long together, their impact was a game-changer and authors like Emerson and Humboldt should never be forgotten. Combining emotion with nature “celebrated connections and sympathy with one’s fellow creatures” (Walls 19). Science literature elevated the general public’s views of their surrounding world and does not get all of the credit it deserves. Learning how to appreciate nature and its beauties we owe to when science and literature were “married.” We may not know of or always remember their love, but when we look at how beautiful the trees are, and why they are so beautiful we have science literature to thank.