In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re hearing an awful lot about the fraught relationship between science and media. In his book, News from Mars: Mass Media and the Forging of a New Astronomy, 1860-1910 (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019), historian of science Joshua Nall shows us that a blurry boundary between science and journalism was a key feature—not a bug—of the emergence of modern astronomy.
Focusing on objects and media, such as newspapers, encyclopedias, cigarette cards, and globes, Nall offers a history of how astronomers’ cultivation of a mass public shaped their discipline as it managed controversies over the possibility of canals on Mars, and even interplanetary communication. This book is strongly recommended for historians of science and communication, as well as those with an eye for material culture.
Joshua Nall is curator of modern sciences at the Whipple Museum of the History of Science in the Department of the History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge.