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British Association for the Advancement of Science (BAAS)

British Association for the Advancement of Science

[Note: Part of the HET Website.  This page is not related to or endorsed by the British Association or any other organization. See the official BAAS. website]

The British Association for the Advancement of Science (BAAS) was the brainchild of the Edinburgh scientist David Brewster and the clergyman Vernon Harcourt, with the backing of William Whewell, Charles Babbage, John Hershel and others.  Disappointed by what they perceived to be the narrow elitism of the Royal Society and the general decline of science in the British Isles,  Brewster & co. looked around for a solution to promote science not only among professionals, but also among amateur enthusiasts and the general public.  They were inspired in particular by the continental associations, notably the Association of Physicians and Naturalists set up in Munich in 1822 and the German Congress of Scientists which had met in Hamburg in 1830.

The BAAS was founded with a threefold aim: first, to promote and fund scientific research efforts; secondly, to engender communication between scientists throughout Britain and disseminate information of scientific results; thirdly, to publicize and promote the cause of science among the general public.  The first meeting was held at York in September 27, 1831 and its first president was Charles William Wentworth, Lord Fitzwilliam.

In 1832, William Whewell invited Adolphe Quetelet to speak at the Cambridge conference of the BAAS.  Quetelet's presentation on statistics and social science and electrified the audience. In the aftermath, Whewell, Babbage, Richard Jones and Robert Malthus, the dean of English economics, persuaded the BAAS president Adam Sedgwick to found "Section F", focused on statistics, which would include political economy.  Arguably, Section F of the BAAS has been regarded as the first professional association of economists.

The founding group of Whewell, Jones, Babbage, Malthus & co. had originally envisaged Section F to serve as an empiricist counterweight to the influence of the theoretical Ricardians and their Political Economy Club.   Section F was labeled only  "Statistics" in 1835, and only changed to "Economic Science and Statistics" in 1856, with the "economic science" as a catch-all term to capture the empirical and policy-oriented papers on public administration (sanitation, strikes, etc.) that were usually presented at its meetings, rather than economic theory proper (which were rarer). 

The status of Section F reached a nadir in 1877, when it was formally proposed by, among others, Francis Galton, that economics be dropped from Section F of the BAAS on account of its methods being too "unscientific".  Or, as Lord Bramwell would summarize the alarming controversy a decade later, its opponents suggested "not that political economy was dead, but that it had never lived - that there never was such a science." (1888: p. 704). 

The reliance of economists on Section F of the BAAS as their only professional organization was diminished with the foundation of the British Economic Association (since renamed the Royal Economic Society) in 1890.

Sections of the BAAS c. 1850

A - Mathematics and Physics
B - Chemistry and Mineralogy
C - Geology and Physical Geography
D - Zoology and Botany (& Ethnology)
E - Physiology
F - Statistics (& Political Economy)
G - Mechanical Science

Sections of the BAAS (c.1900)

Section A - Mathematical and physical science
Section B - Chemistry
Section C - Geology
Section D - Zoology
Section E - Geography
Section F - Economic science and statistics
Section G - Engineering
Section H - Anthropology
Section I - Physiology
Section K - Botany
Section L - Educational science 



Date Meeting President of BAAS President of Section F  
1831 York Earl Fitzwilliam N/A  
1832 Oxford Rev. W. Buckland N/A  
1833 Cambridge Rev. Adam Sedgwick Charles Babbage  
1834 Edinburgh T. MacDougall Brisbane Charles Lemon  
1835 Dublin Rev. Provost Lloyd Charles Babbage  
1836 Bristol Marquis of Lansdowne Charles Lemon  
1837 Liverpool Earl of Burlington Lord Sandon  
1838 Newcastle Duke of Northumberland Col. Sykes  
1839 Birmingham Rev. W. Vernon Harcourt Henry Hallam  
1840 Glasgow Marquis of Breadalbane Lord Sandon  
1841 Plymouth William Whewell Col. Sykes  
1842 Manchester Francis Egerton, Earl Ellesmere G.W. Wood  
1843 Cork Earl of Rosse C. Lemon  
1844 York Rev. George Peacock Col. Sykes  
1845 Cambridge John F.W. Herschel Earl Fitzwilliam  
1846 Southampton Roderick I. Murchison George Richardson Porter  
1847 Oxford Robert Harry Inglis Travers Twiss  
1848 Swansea Marquis Northampton J.H. Vivian  
1849 Birmingham Dr. T.R. Robinson Lord Lyttleton  
1850 Edinburgh David Brewster John Lee  
1851 Ipswich G.B. Airy John P. Boileau  
1852 Belfast Col. Edward Sabine Richard Whately, Archbishop of Dublin  
1853 Hull William Hopkins James Heywood  
1854 Liverpool Earl of Harrowby Thomas Tooke  
1855 Glasgow Duke of Argyll R. Moncton Milnes  
1856 Cheltenham Charles G.B. Daubeney Lord Stanley, MP  
1857 Dublin Rev. Humphrey Lloyd Richard Whately, Archbishop of Dublin  
1858 Leeds Richard Owen Edward Baines  
1859 Aberdeen Prince Consort Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha Col. W.H. Sykes Opening Address
1860 Oxford Lord Wrottesley Nassau William Senior Opening Address
1861 Manchester William Fairbairn William Newmarch Opening Address
1862 Cambridge Rev. R. Willis Edwin Chadwick Opening Address
1863 Newcastle W. Armstrong William Tite Opening Address
1864 Bath Charles Lyell William Farr Opening Address
1865 Birmingham John Phillips Lord Stanley Opening Address
1866 Nottingham William R. Grove J.E. Thorold Rogers Opening Address
1867 Dundee Duke of Buccleuch M.E. Grant Duff Opening Address
1868 Norwich Joseph Dalton Hooker Samuel Brown Opening Address
1869 Exeter George G. Stokes Stafford H. Northcote Opening Address
1870 Liverpool Thomas H. Huxley W. Stanley Jevons Opening Address
1871 Edinburgh Sir William Thomson Lord Neaves Opening Address
1872 Brighton W.B. Carpenter Henry Fawcett Opening Address
1873 Bradford Alexander W. Williamson W.E. Forster Opening Address
1874 Belfast John Tyndall Lord O'Hagan Opening Address
1875 Bristol Sir John Hawkshaw James Heywood Opening Address
1876 Glasgow Thomas Andrews George Campbell Opening Address
1877 Plymouth Allen Thomson Earl Fortescue Opening Address
1878 Dublin William Spottiswoode John Kells Ingram Opening Address
1879 Sheffield G.J. Allman G. Shaw Lefevre Opening Address
1880 Swansea Andrew Crombie Ramsay G.W. Hastings Opening Address
1881 York Sir John Lubbock M.E. Grant Duff Opening Address
1882 Southampton   G. Sclater-Booth Opening Address
1883 Southport   R.H. Inglis Palgrave  
1884 Montreal   Sir Richard Temple  
1885 Aberdeen   Henry Sidgwick  
1886 Birmingham   J.B. Martin  
1887 Manchester   Robert Giffen  
1888 Bath Sir F. Bramwell Lord Bramwell Opening Address
1889 Newcastle   Francis Ysidro Edgeworth  
1890  Leeds   Alfred Marshall  
1891 Cardiff   William Cunningham  
1892 Edinburgh   Sir C.W. Fremantle  
1893 Nottingham   John S. Nicholson  
1894 Oxford   Charles F. Bastable  
1895 Ipswich    L.L. Price  
1896 Liverpool   Lionel Courtney  
1897 Toronto   E.C.K. Gonner  
1898  Bristol   James Bonar  
1899 Dover   Henry Higgs  
1900 Bradford   P.G. Craigie  
1901 Glasgow   Sir R. Giffen  
1902 Belfast   Edwin Cannan  
1903 Southport    E.W. Brabrook  
1904 Cambridge   William Smart  


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Resources on the BAAS


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