Jim Endersby: historian and author

Jim Endersby

Welcome to my website. Here are a few details about what I do and who I am.




I was a consultant for the BBC television history of science series The Story of Science: Power, Proof and Passion, which was shown in the UK in April 2010.

I have appeared on the radio a few times, in Britain, the USA and in Australia. The most recent was on Australian Radio National, where I gave two talks for a show called Ockham's Razor. These broadcasts (and some of my others) are available online.


Work in Progress

Orchid, a book for Reaktion, which should be out in 2014 as part of their new botanical series. It will be a cultural history of the flowers, ranging from classical mythology to a recent scientific study of the impact of climate change on native British orchids, like Orchis mascula, the early purple orchid (pictured, which I photographed in Sussex in May 2013).

I am also writing a new book for Atlantic Books (UK) that will be published by Metropolitan Books (Henry Holt & Company) in the US. Tentatively called A Place for Everything , it will explore the connections between science and empire by looking at the ways new sciences were shaped by new classifications.

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University of Sussex

Academic interests

I am Reader in the History of Science in the School of History, Art History and Philosophy at the University of Sussex, and am also Director of Teaching and Learning for the School. I teach the history of nineteenth- and twentieth-century science (with a particular emphasis on Darwin, classification, natural history and biology, genetics and science fiction).

There is a complete list of my publications available here.

I did my first degree in History and Philosophy of Science at the University of New South Wales, followed by an MPhil and PhD in the HPS Department at Cambridge, after which I was a research fellow at Darwin College, Cambridge.

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Darwin 2009

2009 was the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species.

To coincide with these anniversaries, I edited a new scholarly edition of The Origin of Species, which was published by Cambridge University Press in May 2009. It includes an extensive introduction, explanatory notes, brief biographies of everyone Darwin mentions, and an appendix detailing some of the key changes that Darwin made to later editions of the book. The journal Science and Education reviewed the edition and commented that ''the Origin of Species is an excellent starting point to read Darwin and this Cambridge anniversary edition is an excellent choice for anyone who wants to read the book". It also commented that "this introduction is remarkable" and should be "required reading" for students.

I have been speaking about Darwin at various public events around the world and there are podcasts of one or two of these available online. My next (and final!) public lecture on Darwin ("Darwinian Myths: Science and Religion 150 years On") will be on Sunday 27 June 2010 at Conway Hall, London.

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Joseph Hooker

Joseph Hooker

My first monograph – Imperial Nature: Joseph Hooker and the practices of Victorian science – was published in May 2008 by the University of Chicago Press; a paperback edition was published in Autumn 2010). The book was shortlisted for the international History of Science Society's Suzanne J. Levinson Prize.

The Journal of the History of Biology reviewed the book in January 2010, and their reviewer, Sandra Herbert, commented that 'it is clear that Joseph Hooker was an influential man of science, and that, in a fascinating and subtle study, Jim Endersby has brought us deeper into his world".

The Journal of British Studies reviewed the book in January 2010, commenting that Endersby's 'sophisticated attention to the impact of daily scientific practice forces us to reevaluate our understanding of, and historiographical approach to, Victorian British natural history. It will provoke and inform much fresh research'.

The book also got a very favourable review in Nineteenth-Century Contexts in September 2009.

The British Journal for the History of Science reviewed the book (March 2009), and commented that Endersby 'tells us definitively about the vexed meaning of ‘professionalization’ in the Victorian period, the place of experiment and observation in natural history, the role of mapping and publishing and publicizing – all supported by astonishing detail from published and archival material. A short review cannot come close to doing Imperial Nature justice'.

The journal Victorian Studies reviewed it (Autumn 2008), describing it as 'a remarkable, deeply researched, multidimensional study' adding that Endersby's 'views will invite controversy while at the same time requiring other historians of the culture and practice of Victorian science to reconsider many of their existing presuppositions. This is a book to be read and pondered'.

The Times Higher Education reviewed the book on 24 July, describing it as a ‘fascinating study’.

Science (7 Nov 2008) commented: "Endersby give us a detailed, scholarly account with a deeper point: that science is about more than the grand battles of competing ideas. In doing so, he provides a richly textured account of a period in which the status of natural science was far more precarious than it is today. And the book will hopefully stand as a reminder, during next year's Darwin celebrations, of just how many unsung individuals contributed to the scientific progress of the age."

The book uses the career of Joseph Dalton Hooker (pictured on the left) to explore three of the major themes in the historiography of Victorian science: the reception of Darwinism; the consequences of empire; and, the emergence of a scientific profession. Each of its nine thematic chapters looks at a particular scientific practice – such as travelling, classifying or writing – and examines its role in Hooker’s work and its broader significance as a way of placing science within the rapidly developing social world of nineteenth-century Britain.

I run a website on Hooker, which tells you more about him and my research.

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Spanish cover

A Guinea Pig’s History of Biology

The State Museum (Oberoesterreichische Landesmuseen) of upper Austria, in Linz, held an exhibition based on the Guinea Pig book, which ran until March 2013. A German language edition of the book (Leben Verstehen: Tiere und Pflanzen, die unser Weltbild veränderten, pictured) was published by Kehrwasser Verlag in 2012 to accompany the exhibition.

A Spanish edition of the book, Una historia de la biología según el conejillo de Indias, was been published by Editorial Ariel in 2009.

The UK paperback edition of my first book, A Guinea Pig's History of Biology was published by Arrow in May 2008.

The US paperback from Harvard University Press was published in 2009.

The book won the inaugural Royal Society of Literature Jerwood Prize and was longlisted for the Guardian First Book Award in 2007 in the UK.

The magazine New Scientist described the book as "Eye-opening and entertaining, this is cutting-edge history of science that everyone should read".

The Sunday Times called it "A highly entertaining and original book".

  • Click here if you would like to know more about the book and the organisms it describes.

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About Jim Endersby

I was born in Kent, an unreasonably long time ago, and such little growing up as I have done happened there and in Kenya (where my father worked for the UN Development Project). I failed A level history (actually, I failed mock A-level history; the school wouldn't even let me sit the real exam), then went to two art schools, which I dropped out of four times in total. I worked as a graphic designer for various lost causes and then moved to Australia. I was getting profoundly bored with graphic design when my oldest friend introduced me to the work of Stephen Jay Gould. From there it was short step to studying history and philosophy of science.

I am married with two children and live in Sussex.

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Last updated: August 29, 2013