The SOCIETY FOR THE DIFFUSION OF USEFUL KNOWLEDGE (SDUK), was founded in 1826, mainly at the instigation of Lord Brougham , with the object of publishing information to people who were unable to obtain formal teaching, or who preferred self-education . A Whiggish London organisation that published inexpensive texts intended to adapt scientific and similarly high-minded material for the rapidly expanding reading public, it was wound up in 1848.
An American group of the same name was founded as part of the Lyceum
movement in the United States around the same period. Its Boston
branch sponsored lectures by such speakers as
Ralph Waldo Emerson
* 1 Aims * 2 Development
* 3 Publications
* 3.1 Library of Useful Knowledge * 3.2 Other SDUK publications
* 4 In popular culture
* 5 References
* 5.1 Citations * 5.2 Sources
* 6 External links
SDUK publications were intended for the working class and the middle class, as an antidote to the more radical output of the pauper presses. The society set out to achieve this by acting as an intermediary between authors and publishers by launching several series of publications. It was run by a committee of eminent persons, and had a close association with the newly formed University College London , as well as the numerous provincial Mechanics\' Institutes . Its printers included Baldwin profits were used to continue the Society's work.
While conceived with high ideals the project gradually failed, as subscribers fell away and sale of publications declined. Charles Knight was largely responsible for what success SDUK publications did have; he engaged in extensive promotional campaigns, and worked to improve the readability of the sometimes abstruse material. Nonetheless many of the titles had little interest to readers, though the Penny Magazine at its peak had a circulation of around 200,000 copies a week. The Society eventually wound up in 1848, though some of its works apparently continued to be published. The archives of the Society are in the possession of the University College London.
The Society was not without opposition, and the Literary Gazette mounted a campaign on behalf of the book trade, supported by publications such as the Royal Lady's Magazine, who complained in the early 1830s that:
Few persons are aware that the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge have done, and are still doing, more to ruin the Book trade than all the change of times, the want of money, the weight of taxes, and even the law of Libel have accomplished; yet they – a committee of Noblemen and pretended Patriots – are permitted to go on in their unfeeling, nay, considering the hundreds of thousands engaged in the Book trade, we may add brutal, career, without interruption.
LIBRARY OF USEFUL KNOWLEDGE
One significant set of publications by the SDUK was the Library of Useful Knowledge; sold for a sixpence and published biweekly, its books focused on scientific topics. The first volume, an introduction to the series by Brougham, sold over 33,000 copies. However, attempts to reach the working class market were largely unsuccessful; only among the middle class was there sustained interest in popular science texts.
Like many other works in the new genre of popular scientific
narratives—such as the
Bridgewater Treatises and
OTHER SDUK PUBLICATIONS
Map of Naples published by SDUK
* Maps, primarily in a two-volume set, and prepared to a very high standard * Penny Magazine * Penny Cyclopaedia * British Almanac (and associated Companion) * Library of Entertaining Knowledge * Farmers Series, which included works by William Youatt on The Dog, the horse, cattle, and sheep * Working Man's Companion * Quarterly Journal of Education * Gallery of Portraits * Biographical Dictionary * The Stars
IN POPULAR CULTURE
Thomas Love Peacock satirised the SPUK in 1831 in Crotchet Castle
as the 'Steam Intellect Society': a vicarage is almost set on fire by
a "cook taking it into her head to study hydrostatics, in a sixpenny
tract, published by the Steam Intellect Society".
* In the Notes to Anthony Trollope's book, Framley Parsonage,
published by Oxford University Press as a World's Classic in 1980, P.
D. Edwards writes that Trollope's character, Lord Boanerges, "may have
been modelled in some respects on Lord Brougham.... founder of the
Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge".
* References to the Society are rare in the modern era, but within
* ^ B. Hilton, A Mad, Bad, & Dangerous People? (Oxford 2008) p. 174
* ^ Helen R. Deese and Guy R. Woodall (1986). "A Calendar of
Lectures Presented by the Boston Society for the Diffusion of Useful
Knowledge (1829–1847)". Studies in the American Renaissance:
* Mead T. Cain, 'The Maps of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful
Knowledge: A Publishing History', Imago Mundi, Vol. 46, 1994 (1994),
* Janet Percival, 'The Society for the Diffusion of Useful
Knowledge, 1826–1848: A handlist of the Society's correspondence and
papers', The Library of University College London, Occasional Papers,
No 5 1978, ISSN 0309-3352
* James A. Secord. Victorian Sensation: The Extraordinary
Publication, Reception, and Secret Authorship of Vestiges of the
Natural History of Creation. University of Chicago Press, 2000. ISBN
University College London