Disseminating Science

Popularizing Every Which Way

“I inaugurated universal science teaching […] via projections, that is, with photographic images on glass plates, projected onto a screen, enlarged and made almost to glow in my Progress Hall.”
Moigno, François, Enseignement de tous par les projections (Teaching for All with Projections), 1882, p. II

Organizations and popularizers focused on developing other media besides books.

Classes that were open to the public, including even classes, were organized all over the place: not only in primary schools and universities, but also in theatres and meeting rooms.

Class open to the public at the Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers
(National Conservatory of Arts and Manufacture), in La Nature (Nature), 1876.

Although their ambition was more cultural than truly educational, conferences and lectures for the general public also flourished.

Whether they were given by trained professors or popularizers, they took place in the evening or on Sundays in order to allow the largest possible audience to attend.

Poster for the Popular Society for Fine Arts, Alphonse Muchat, 1897.

Poster for Les Mystères de la science (The Mysteries of Science) by Louis Figuier, 1888.

New technology for images led to new forms of presentation.

More and more often, the conferences were enhanced with projections, pictures being worth a thousand words.

Magic lantern projection scene, 1897.

An audience listening to Lioret’s phonograph, in Les dernières merveilles de la science
(The Latest Scientific Marvels)
, Daniel Bellet, 1900.

Musique de la Garde Républicaine de Paris en 1899

Caricature of amateur astronomers by Pruche, 1842.

La féérie scientifique

Science’s place in public life, whether staged or not, was promoted everywhere: like the magic lantern in its day, presentations of recent inventions,

like the phonograph, were tremendously successful. The frenzy for them was such that they became a subject of caricature.

The public at the Natural History Museum, in La Nature (Nature), 1884.

Visitors in front of the elephant at the Jardin des Plantes Botanical Gardens, Paris, engraving by Henri Guérard, 1887.

Promenade au jardin d’acclimatation (juin 1896) - (12 juillet 1896). @ Institut Lumière

Finally, outings to museums, botanical gardens and zoos also offered introductions to science. As early as 1858, the Natural History Museum in Rouen offered a self-guided tour, in the shape of a written guide to the museum.

In addition, the collections were presented in an informative way, accompanied with wooden or plasters models to make them more pedagogical.

Poster for the play Les six parts du monde (The Six Parts of the World), 1883.

Poster for the play Denis Papin ou l’invention de la vapeur
(Denis Papin or the Invention of Steam)
, 1882.


Portrait of Louis Figuier, Nadar, 1854-1870.