Lessons from the Victorian Rehabilitation of Disgusting Microorganisms

John R Dolan, CNRS, Laboratoire d'Océanography de Villefranche-sur-Mer, Villefranche-sur-Mer, France
In the Victorian Age microscopy was introduced as a popular pastime. People discovered, many with horror, the diversity of aquatic microorganisms in their drinking water. Furthermore, cholera epidemics were linked to some water supplies. Thus in the 1850's aquatic microorganisms had a decidedly bad press. Still, many books were published on microscopy aimed at general audiences, both adult and juvenile. I will present some of these popular books of particular interest as they included presentations of aquatic microorganisms in a very positive light. I focus on the approaches taken in these books, based on their texts and illustrations, to engage and convince the reader. The lesson to be drawn concerns our oft-mandated efforts in “Outreach”. The methods used by 19th century popularizes of the ‘wonders of the microscopic world’ are of relevance today. The Victorian authors appealed to the imagination, to empowerment, and gave very practical instructions on how to see the invisible. I conclude outreach efforts should likely target the very young as having the fewest preconceptions, and most importantly describe our organisms (or area of interest) with the enthusiasm and wonder that brought us into the laboratory to begin with.