Frankenstein's Children

Frankenstein's Children: Electricity, Exhibition, and Experiment in Early-Nineteenth-Century London

Copyright Date: 1998
Pages: 340
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Frankenstein's Children
    Book Description:

    During the second quarter of the nineteenth century, Londoners were enthralled by a strange fluid called electricity. In examining this period, Iwan Morus moves beyond the conventional focus on the celebrated Michael Faraday to discuss other electrical experimenters, who aspired to spectacular public displays of their discoveries. Revealing connections among such diverse fields as scientific lecturing, laboratory research, telegraphic communication, industrial electroplating, patent conventions, and innovative medical therapies, Morus also shows how electrical culture was integrated into a new machine-dominated, consumer society. He sees the history of science as part of the history of production, and emphasizes the labor and material resources needed to make electricity work.

    Frankenstein's Childrenexplains that Faraday, with his colleagues at the Royal Society and the Royal Institution, looked at science as the province of a highly trained elite, who presented their abstract picture of nature only to select groups. The book contrasts Faraday's views with those of other practitioners, to whom science was a practical, skill-based activity open to all. In venues such as the Galleries of Practical Science, electrical phenomena were presented to a public less distinguished but no less enthusiastic and curious than Faraday's audiences. William Sturgeon, for instance, emphasized building apparatus and exhibiting electrical phenomena, while chemists, instrument-makers, and popular lecturers supported the London Electrical Society. These previously little studied "electricians" contributed much to the birth of "Frankenstein's children"--the not completely benign effects of electricity on a new consumer world.

    Originally published in 1998.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4777-8
    Subjects: History of Science & Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    • INTRODUCTION Electricity, Experiment, and the Experimental Life
      (pp. 3-12)

      A new fluid appeared near the beginning of the nineteenth century, or rather an old fluid started appearing in a variety of startlingly different ways. Electricity had, of course, been around for at least a century before 1800,¹ but following the invention of the voltaic pile and Oersted’s unification of electricity and magnetism in 1820, the mysterious fluid appeared in more and more different guises. New machines, new experiments, and new places appeared through which electricity could be seen and admired. The possibilities that electricity represented were enormous. Throughout the century, commentators marveled at the power that could be harnessed...

    • CHAPTER 1 The Errors of a Fashionable Man: Michael Faraday and the Royal Institution
      (pp. 13-42)

      Any account of the cultures of electrical experiment during the second quarter of the nineteenth century must find a space for Michael Faraday. By the middle of his career in about 1840 he was without question, for the metropolitan middle and upper classes at whom he aimed his science, the very image of the experimental natural philosopher. Too many histories of science have taken that monumental success as self-evident. Faraday was a genius, either for his philosophical insight,¹ or more commonly for his experimental skill. He is as a result unavoidable, providing a yardstick against which his electrical contemporaries cannot...

    • CHAPTER 2 The Vast Laboratory of Nature: William Sturgeon and Popular Electricity
      (pp. 43-69)

      One of the few critical remarks aimed at Michael Faraday by one of his biographers was by Silvanus P. Thompson. The remark concerned Faraday’s attitude toward the work of his near contemporary and rival, William Sturgeon. According to Thompson, Faraday had never given to Sturgeon the credit he deserved for his experimental work, and for his invention of the soft iron electromagnet in particular.¹ Thompson went so far as to identify Sturgeon’s invention as being equal to Faraday’s discovery of electromagnetic rotation in its significance for the history of electricity. There is no question but that Faraday’s, rather than Thompson’s,...

    • CHAPTER 3 Blending Instruction with Amusement: London’s Galleries of Practical Science
      (pp. 70-98)

      As the opening chapters have suggested, place was important for electrical experiment in early-nineteenth-century London. Electricians needed to position themselves on the metropolis’s cultural map, both to provide themselves with an audience and to acquire the resources they needed for their work. The places where electricity was produced and displayed in many ways defined its significance. Cultural connections were put together in terms of the geography of experiments. Prestigious establishments such as the Royal Institution were not, of course, the only places where London’s publics could encounter electricians and their experiments. A variety of venues existed where those barred from...

    • CHAPTER 4 A Science of Experiment and Observation: The Rise and Fall of the London Electrical Society
      (pp. 99-124)

      The first half of the nineteenth century witnessed the proliferation of specialist scientific societies in London. Many historians have noted this process as central to the development of autonomous scientific professions in England. These new institutions were largely the preserve of vocationally minded gentlemen, middle-class and professional in their attitudes, who wished to redefine the boundaries of natural philosophy. Specialization and the formation of specialist bodies were rapidly becoming the marks of scientific discipline.¹ The Geological Society, founded in 1807, and the Astronomical Society, founded in 1820, exemplified for many the new direction of natural philosophy. For some contemporary commentators,...

    • CHAPTER 5 The Right Arm of God: Electricity and the Experimental Production of Life
      (pp. 125-152)

      One highly significant feature of electricians’ work during the 1830s and beyond was the attention devoted to the universality of electricity. In particular, electricians devoted much attention to the connections of electricity with life. Discussions and debates concerning these issues proliferated in a variety of settings, drawing on a wide range of resources. To bring the first part of the book to a close, this chapter discusses some of these debates to show how different accounts of electricity in its connections with nature and culture could be put together in different social settings. Such issues were often strongly contested and...

    • INTRODUCTION From Performance to Process
      (pp. 155-163)

      One of the key claims of the first half of this book was that electrical experimentation during the first few decades of the nineteenth century in Britain was quite frequently an irreducibly local performance. It mattered a great deal to Michael Faraday, to name the most famous example, that his experiments took place at the Royal Institution and that his public performances occurred in that illustrious establishment’s lecture theater.¹ Thus the first half of this book devoted particular attention to the examination of electrical experimentation’s places. Where an experiment took place, as much as who performed it, was a matter...

    • CHAPTER 6 They Have No Right to Look for Fame: The Patenting of Electricity
      (pp. 164-193)

      This chapter takes as a starting point the problematic status of invention in early Victorian England. Invention itself was a highly negotiable activity and the status of inventors difficult to manage and negotiate throughout this period. Making distinctions between discovery and invention, for example, was not an easy process.¹ These were cultural, social problems. In many ways they amounted to the issue of what kind of person an inventor (or, for that matter, a discoverer) should be. In other words, they were questions concerning the appropriate social group and place for the inventor. The chapter title reflects one response to...

    • CHAPTER 7 To Annihilate Time and Space: The Invention of the Telegraph
      (pp. 194-230)

      For many, the invention of the electric telegraph was the greatest triumph of Victorian ingenuity and invention. It revolutionized communication and had a central role to play in the creation and consolidation of imperial bureaucracy during the second half of the nineteenth century.¹ Many historians have also recently argued for the constitutive role of the telegraph in the development of nineteenth-century physics.² Most of these commentators have focused on telegraphy and the production of electrical standards. The spread of telegraph cables fostered a need for accurate measurement and the production of theories that could make sense of the technology’s idiosyncrasies....

    • CHAPTER 8 Under Medical Direction: The Regulation of Electrotherapy
      (pp. 231-256)

      Late-nineteenth-century commentators, looking back at the second quarter of their century, located the new respectability of electricity as a cure for disease during this period. No one denied that electricity had frequently been used for therapeutic purposes for at least a century before this time. That past practice was dismissed, however, as largely empiric-ridden and unsystematic. Only in the early Victorian period by these accounts did electricity become a tool of orthodox medicine. A correspondent in theLancet, for example, citing a French military report and applying it to the British situation, identified improved technology and a new understanding of...

    (pp. 257-262)

    By the 1850s, electricity had successfully emerged from laboratories, exhibition halls, and lecture theaters to became part of fully public, commercial life. In so doing, it had not, of course, left its old contexts behind. Rather, these places of experiment took on new significances themselves as they became adjuncts to railway networks, manufactories, and hospitals. Electrical experimenters acquired new skills as they attempted to find places for themselves in an industrial world. The second half of this book surveyed the ways in which electricity took its place in commercial culture during the 1840s. What should be clear is the contingency...

  8. NOTES
    (pp. 263-294)
    (pp. 295-316)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 317-324)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 325-325)