Out on the FringeWales and the History of Science

Type Article
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages12
JournalBritish Journal for the History of Science
Early online date11 Mar 2021
DOI
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 11 Mar 2021
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Abstract

Imagine a scene sometime in the 1750s in the depths of west Wales. This was wild country. Even a century later, George Borrow called it a ‘mountainous wilderness … a waste of russet-coloured hills, with here and there a black craggy summit’. Through this desolation rides the Reverend William Williams. As he rode, he read – and the book in his saddlebags on this occasion was William Derham's Astro-Theology, first published some twenty years earlier. Williams was a leading figure in the Methodist revolution that had been sweeping through Wales for the past two decades. Disenchanted with an Anglican Church that seemed increasingly disconnected – culturally and linguistically – from their everyday lives, and attracted by powerful and charismatic preachers like Williams himself, men and women across Wales turned to Methodism. They organized themselves into local groups worshipping in meeting houses rather than in their parish churches. Leaders like Williams usually had a number of such groups under their care, and spent much of their time on horseback, travelling between widely scattered communities to minister to their congregations. That Williams read in the saddle is well known. As shall become clear, he had certainly read Derham's book as well. It is not too much of an imaginative leap, therefore, to picture him reading about God's design of the cosmos as he rode through the Welsh hills – and it is a good image with which to begin a discussion about Wales, science and European peripheries

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