Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge

Thomas Palmelund Johansen

Operating from London between 1826 and 1848, the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge (SDUK) was one of the most ambitious educational projects of the nineteenth century. By spreading cheap secular books and periodicals on "scientific" and "useful" knowledge, the Society and its numerous members sought to diffuse ideas about Western science and civilization, not only within the British Isles, but also all throughout the British Empire and the world.

The graph below shows the span of connections from the London-based philanthropic society: within its correspondence network were fellow scientific institutions, public educators, publishers, and local committees from across the globe. The data stems from records found in the SDUK archives held at University College London Special Collections and the work of Monica C. Grobel in her 4-volume University of London thesis “Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, 1826-1848,” written in 1933.

Each node is laid out according to its geographical location, placed through geo-coordinates on a Mercator-projected world map. Each type of node on the map has been given its own color: SDUK and local committees are red, scientific academies and major institutions are blue, imitating societies/mechanics’ libraries and institutions are light blue, and publishers and translators are green. Labels marked with squared brackets are the names given in the source material and Appendix VIII of Grobel's thesis, which lists all the connections she had identified during research. In its temporal dimensions, the graph is static, so that all the connections during its period of operation from 1826 to 1848 are shown in one graph.


Thomas Palmelund Johansen is a PhD candidate at Aarhus University. He was a Visiting Mellon Prize Student at the Joint Center for History and Economics at Cambridge in the 2014/15 academic year.

This page was created with the help of Ye Seul Byeon of the Center for History and Economics at Harvard.



Published 2017, revised 2017