Joseph Banks and the English Enlightenment

Author:  John Gascoigne


Joseph Bank’s name is attached to various plant species and geographical locations around the world; he was a long-time president of the Royal Society Privy Counsellor and adviser to the British government on a range of scientific and imperial issues.

He was a driving force in the establishment of a penal colony at Botany Bay. Yet there are few monuments to him and while he has been the subject of a number of biographies, these have focused on his personal career rather than his relationship with some of the major movements of the period.

This book places the work of Joseph Banks in the context of the Enlightenment. It aims at a better understanding of Banks himself as well as seeking to provide an analysis of some of the major scientific and cultural preoccupations of late eighteenth and early nineteenth century British society.

Banks’s relation to the currents of thought associated with the Enlightenment is explored through a number of thematic chapters. These deal with the cultural ideal of the ‘virtuoso’ and the pursuit of national history and anthropology, the practice of ‘improvement’ and the political and intellectual forces which contributed to the waning of the enlightenment in England.

The above text is quoted from the inside cover of the book.


John Gascoigne teaches in the School of History at the University of New South Wales. He is the author of Cambridge in the Age of Enlightenment (Cambridge University Press 1989) which was a co-winner of the Australian Historical Association’s, Hancock award in 1990.

Find the book at the State Library of NSW shop

© Cambridge University Press 1994

Published by
The Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge
10 Stamford Road Oakleigh Melbourne Victoria 3166

ISBN 0521450772 Hardback