Knowledge Generation

11. Popular Annals and the Library address both the past and the present to project their understanding of utility, and as indicated by the incorporation of chronology and history in earlier books of knowledge, readers were interested in the past as well as the present, and in understanding contemporary modernization and social transformation as an extension of a rational and progressive trajectory. In short, the understanding of time was important, as otherwise suggested by the proliferation of historiography and historical novels in the Romantic period.

Readers were also interested in space and place, geography and travel. Histories of Greece and Rome, works of natural history, topographies, even the novels of Scott and the poems of Byron, generated increased interest in foreign parts as well as nature, landscape and scenery. Even more, with the expansion of the press and improvements in literacy, more people became familiar with the world beyond British shores, which generated further curiosity in other places. Fictional works including travels abroad were common, but non-fiction also addressed foreign places. As an example, The Panorama of the World, or an Enquiry into the Manners and Customs of the Principal Foreign Inhabitants of the Globe (London: Miller, 1829) is a collection of short pieces on various peoples and regions of the world, including hand-coloured woodcuts of the people in question. At a time when travel for leisure or otherwise outside Britain was restricted to the upper classes, it provides knowledge of the world otherwise unattainable, and describes another extension of the expansive understanding of general knowledge applicable to the lives of more and more people.