Dr Chris Manias
Senior Lecturer in the History of Science & Technology
Twitter Handle: @Chris_Manias
I work on the modern history of science, with a particular focus on the
history of the human, biological and ‘deep time’ sciences in Britain,
France, the USA and German-speaking Europe from the eighteenth
to the early-twentieth century. I joined KCL in 2015 after previous
posts at the universities of Manchester, Bristol and Exeter, and the
German Historical Institute London, and studied for my PhD at Birkbeck.
I have particular interests in the history of anthropology, archaeology and palaeontology, and how different scientific fields have affected understandings of the past and developmental change. My work particularly focuses on how science is discussed across varying boundaries and barriers, whether these be geographic ones between different regions, countries and empires, cultural ones between different social groups and media, or disciplinary ones. I am also very interested in the public history of science, particularly examining the development and wider role of museums, learned societies and science in the media. In addition, I am committed to connecting the history of science with other historical fields, and am particularly interested in how scientific debates have affected larger historical issues around ideas of race, nationality, ethnicity, environments and humanity.
The Lost Beasts: Nineteenth-Century Palaeontology and the Development of the Mammals
When people today hear ‘palaeontology,’ they immediately think of dinosaurs.
However, for much of the history of the discipline, scientists and public audiences
seeking dramatic demonstrations of the history of life focused on something else:
the developmental history of the mammals. Assumptions that ‘the Age of Mammals’
represented the pinnacle of animal life made mammals crucial for understanding
the formation (and possibly the future) of the natural world. Yet this combined with
more troubling notions, that seemingly promising creatures had been swept aside
in the ‘struggle for life’ or that modern biodiversity was ‘impoverished’ compared
to previous eras. Why some prehistoric creatures, such as the sabre-tooth cat and
ground sloth, had become extinct, while others seemed to have been the ancestors
of familiar animals like elephants and horses, were questions loaded with cultural
assumptions, ambiguity and trepidation. And how humans related to deep developmental processes, and whether the ‘Age of Man’ was qualitatively different from the ‘Age of Mammals,’ led to reflections on humanity’s place within the natural world.
This project examines how nineteenth-century scholars, writers, artists and publics understood the developmental history of the mammals – the animals they regarded as being at the summit of life. A major aim of the project is to investigate how engagement with nature, the environment and animals was conditioned by concepts of earth’s history and ‘deep time.’ Using mammal palaeontology as its central focus, the project examines how palaeontological theories of development and reconstructions of fossil animals led to new understandings of the environment and animal world. The project investigates how the history of the mammals was used to show tremendous change in climate, variety and complexity over geological time, and explain how many familiar creatures had originated. It argues that nineteenth-century interest in animals and the environment was preconditioned on ideas drawn from the deep-time sciences, and in order to fully understand engagement with new and familiar environments, it is essential to bring palaeontology fully into the picture.
As well as engaging with these conceptual questions, the project also provides an international history of palaeontological science between the 1840s and the First World War, examining how the field developed between different sites, locations and communities, and was conditioned by interaction between scholarly and public contexts. It traces the development of mammal palaeontology in Europe and North America, and the imperial interests of European and American scientists in Asia, Africa, Australasia and South America. However, rather than treat this as a product of optimistic and free-flowing ‘circulation’, the project examines transnational and cross-regional exchange as depending as much on conflict, blockage and competition as exchange and collaboration. Tensions and disputes conditioned the practice of palaeontology within and between museums, field sites and the public arena, as different institutions and figures collaborated and competed to reconstruct the history of life and claim authority over it. The project shows how international work on the fossil mammals was key to the construction of palaeontology as a science, and how this depended on reconciliations and conflicts across the world in the nineteenth century.
Anderson Antunes, ‘A Naturalist and his Informants in the Amazons: Henry Walter Bates’ Expedition to Brazil (1848-1859).’ Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, (09/2017–12/2017; funded by CAPES Foundation).
Victoria Molinari, ‘Religious Roots of Intelligence Testing in Argentina and Britain.’ University of La Plata (12/2016–2/2017; funded by KCL Global Research Award).
Manias, Chris. Race, Science and the Nation: Reconstructing the Ancient Past in Britain, France and Germany, 1800-1914 (Routledge, 2013).
Manias, Chris. ‘Reconstructing an Incomparable Organism: The Chalicothere in nineteenth and early-twentieth century palaeontology,’ History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 40, 1 (2018), 1-21.
Manias, Chris. ‘Progress in Life’s History: Linking Darwinism and Palaeontology in Britain, 1860-1914,’ Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 66 (2017), Special Issue on ‘Darwinism and Palaeontology,’ 18-26.
Manias, Chris. ‘Jesuit Scientists and Mongolian Fossils: The French Palaeontological Missions in China, 1923-1928,’ Isis 108, 2 (2017), 307-332.
Manias, Chris. ‘Robert Broom’s Fossil Sketches: Conveying Objects through Illustration in the early-twentieth century,’ Museums History Journal 10, 2 (2017), 162-182.
Manias, Chris. ‘The Lost Worlds of Messmore & Damon: Science, Spectacle and Prehistoric Monsters in early-twentieth century America,’ Endeavour 40, 3 (2016), 163-177.
Manias, Chris. ‘Sinanthropus in Britain: International Science and the Nature of Humanity, 1920-1939,’ British Journal for the History of Science 48, 2 (2015), 289-319.
Manias, Chris. ‘The Problematic Construction of “Palaeolithic Man:” Anthropology, the Old Stone Age and the Difficulties of the Comparative Method, 1859-1914,’ Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 51 (2015), 32-43.
Manias, Chris. ‘Building Baluchitherium and Indricotherium: Imperial and International Networks in early-twentieth century Palaeontology,’ Journal of the History of Biology 48, 2 (2015), 237-278.
Manias, Chris. ‘Contemporaries of the Cave Bear and the Woolly Rhinoceros: Historicizing Prehistoric Humans and Extinct Beasts, 1850-1914,’ in Efram Sera-Shriar (ed.), Historicising Humans in nineteenth-century British Sciences (Pittsburgh University Press, 2018), 14-43.
Manias, Chris. ‘Die frühe Evolution des Menschen: Wissenschaftliche Diskussion und populäre Darstellungen (1859-1900)’ in Angela Schwarz (ed.), Streitfall Evolution: Eine Kulturgeschichte (Böhlau, 2017), 125-140.
Manias, Chris. ‘From Terra incognita to Garden of Eden: Unveiling the prehistoric life of China and Central Asia, 1890-1930’ in Robert Bickers and Isabella Jackson (eds.), Treaty Ports in Modern China: Law, Land and Power (Routledge, 2016), 201-219.
Manias, Chris. ‘Scholarly Visions of Prehistoric Sexuality, 1859-1900’ in Rebecca Langlands and Kate Fisher (eds.), Sexual Histories, Sexual Knowledge (Oxford University Press, 2015), 177-199.
Manias, Chris. ‘Prehistory and Palaeontology in France, 1900–40’ in Ludivine Broch and Alison Carrol (eds.), France in an Era of Global War, 1914-45 (Palgrave MacMillan, 2014), 173-191.
Manias, Chris. 'Dinosaur Histories,' Centarus 62, 3 (2020), 562-5.
Manias, Chris. ‘Internationals of Experts, Educators and Scholars: Transnational Histories of Information and Knowledge in the Long Nineteenth Century’ in The Bulletin of the German Historical Institute London 37, 2 (2015), 39-58.
Recent Grants, Awards, and Prizes:
AHRC: International Research Network Grant for ‘Popularizing Palaeontology: Current & Historical Perspectives’ network, Principal Investigator (Co-Investigator: Prof. Joe Cain, UCL), £36,380 (awarded: 12/2017; award duration: 04/2018-09/2019).
British Academy: Mid-Career Fellowship for research project ‘The Lost Beasts: International Palaeontology and the Evolution of the Mammals,’ £95,047 (awarded: 03/2014; award duration: 09/2014-08/2015).
‘Popularizing Palaeontology, Workshop VI: Media,’ King’s College London. Organizer of 2-day workshop with 25 participants (09/2019).
‘Popularizing Palaeontology, Workshop V: Objects,’ North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, Raleigh NC. Organizer of 2-day workshop with 20 participants (04/2019).
‘Popularizing Palaeontology, Workshop IV: Debates & Issues,’ King’s College London. Organizer of 2-day workshop with 25 participants (12/2018).
‘Popularizing Palaeontology, Workshop III: Representations,’ Artis Zoo Library, University of Amsterdam. Organizer of 2-day workshop with 25 participants (05/2018).
‘Popularizing Palaeontology, Workshop II: Audiences & Agendas,’ King’s College London. Organizer of 2-day workshop with 22 participants (12/2017).
‘Popularizing Palaeontology: Historical and Current Perspectives,’ King’s College London. Organizer of 2-day workshop with 18 participants (09/2016).
Recent engagement activities:
‘Hippos of the Thames,’ History Today 66, 4 (April 2016), 21-26.
Blogs & Occasional Writing
‘“Popularizing Palaeontology - Current and Historical Perspectives” (PopPalaeo) workshops and network,’ Palaeontological Newsletter 98 (July 2018), 52-55
‘Feature Archive: A Guide to Museum Archives,’ French History Network Blog (first online 05/2015)
Subject of an episode of the ‘Palaeocast’ podcast: ‘Episode 93: The History of Palaeontological Outreach’ (online 08/2018).
‘Palaeontology and Popular Culture: Pop-Up Exhibition & Discussion Event,’ organized at King’s College London (90 attendees).
‘What is the Point of Palaeontology? Art Exhibition & Discussion Event,’ organized at King’s College London (12/2018; 70 attendees).
‘The Art of Extinct Animals,’ organized a Pop-Up Exhibition of Palaeontological Artwork (12/2017; 70 attendees).