For Some, the Earth Is Still Flat - Pacific Standard: The Science of Society
A British man named Samuel Shenton, then in his early twenties, was doing research in the British Library at Bloomsbury when he came upon a book called Zetetic Astronomy: Earth Not a Globe. Published in 1881 by a man named Samuel Rowbotham, the gist of the 430-page book is summed up neatly by its subtitle: The Earth, Rowbotham proposed, is flat.
Prior to the book’s publication, Rowbotham—the type of man to call himself “Parallax,” decide the Earth is flat, and take off on a journey to tell everyone about it—traveled around England in the mid-1800s, sharing his theories with the public. He became more convincing (relatively speaking) as he went; early on, Rowbotham reportedly once ran away from a lecture in Blackburn when he was asked, “Why, if the Earth is flat, do ships’ hulls disappear over the sea horizon before their masts?” But by the time Zetetic Astronomy was published, Rowbotham had gained some level of notoriety as well as a number of devoted followers.
One of them, Lady Elizabeth Blount, founded the Universal Zetetic Society after Rowbotham’s death in 1884. Blount’s group had a religious bent, believing that the Bible told of the Earth’s planarity; the argument that it was round was a scientific diversion meant to debunk religion. The group circulated a few regularly printed journals and magazines for several years, but membership largely died out by the early 20th century.