If you ever go to a university library (or sometimes a public library) you will find collected bound editions of editorials and magazines on a number of subjects. Now of course we go on the internet and either through the public domain or some private enterprise we can gain access to a wide array of information. An example of such bound editorials was Harmsworth Popular Science. A British magazine that stopped publishing in 1913 of which I have a number of bound editions in shall we say, certain states of condition. These encyclopedias of knowledge don’t just look at physics, chemistry and biology as it was known at the time but it also looks at technological advances and the social sciences also. They look at such topics as you would expect from a 1913 science publication during the reign of George V. These volumes are fascinating in that it shows how (and in particular the British academic) saw the world before the world would change forever only a year after its last publication. Alfred Harmsworth who this is named after was major newspaper tycoon, the pre runner to the likes of William Randolph Hearst and Rupert Murdoch who had significant control in what people read.

From what I’ve looked at in the volumes there are some fascinating articles that would hold merit today, biographies on great minds and inventors along with an interesting look at technology, how it was seen and what it could become. There are some articles however, that would almost definitely be dismissed in our modern era. The volumes show a support for eugenics and and the knowledge of the universe is limited along with theories which have now been proven not to be true (for example how galaxies are formed)

There is a confidence with the United Kingdom’s place in the world (again this is written before the world would be changed significantly in science, though and most definitely politics). There are articles informing us of how much coal is produced in the UK. There are also a number of articles that look at the economics of the UK and how laws are made. It even looks at the rights of women although judging on the editorial team, not a single woman wrote any articles (women did not even have the vote when this was written). There is of course a look at a woman’s place in the world and praises the works of Swedish suffragist Ellen Kay.

A fascination for eugenics though with good is seen throughout the volumes. Little did the writers know if the appalling consequences such thoughts would have later in the 20th Century.

Harmsworth Popular science arrived at a time when great technological advances were coming to the forefront. Advancements in transport as well as a look at relatively new inventions such as the the airplane. It is also interesting to read on how what we would consider historical figures are now perceived. The likes of Thomas Edison, Gulielmo Marconi and Ernest Shackleton are described with high praise written in a time when they were still alive.

If Harmsworth Popular Science continued to day it would be interesting to know how their writers would view their predecessors. In the last volume written by the head editor Arthur Mee, he acknowledges that ‘-that we end, in this volume with our eyes on the horizon’. Mee acknowledges that there is so much more to learn and that everything that has been written is a book of information, ideas, hope and faith and holds no narrow view of life.

There is praise for a certain Thomas Edison

Despite what has since been disproven and ascertained since the publications of these volumes there is an honesty to them and good intentions in a century that would see a significant number of changes. Britain would be at war a year later. Many lives would be lost and irrevocably changed not just in Britain but the rest of the world. We would see these advancements in technology would be destructive as well as have his benefits. We would see how global politics would cause a lot of harm. We do see however, that we as a species can do some remarkable things. What we probably have learnt since is that we have a lot of responsibilities also.

No matter what we learn, we must not be afraid to change our views and reasoning based on the evidence that is available to us and not to be so cruel to those we perceive to be ignorant or wrong. Be kind.

[Educational Book Co Ltd 1913]

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