Electricity was the scientific fashion of the Enlightenment, 'an Entertainment for Angels, rather than for Men'. Lecturers attracted huge audiences to marvel at sparkling fountains, flaming drinks, pirouetting dancers and electrified boys. Flamboyant experimenters made chains of soldiers leap into the air, while wealthy women titillated their admirers with a sensational electric kiss. Enlightenment optimists predicted that this new-found power of nature would cure illnesses, improve crop production, even bring the dead back to life. Benjamin Franklin, better known as one of America's founding fathers, played a key role in developing the new instruments and theories of electricity during the eighteenth century. Celebrated for drawing lightning down from the sky with a kite, Franklin was an Enlightenment expert on electricity who introduced rods to protect tall buildings, treated paralysed patients, and developed one of the most successful explanations of this mysterious phenomenon. But the study of electricity became intertwined with Enlightenment politics. By demonstrating their control of the natural world, Enlightenment philosophers hoped to gain authority over society. And their stunning electrical performances provided dramatic evidence of their special powers. Using contemporary illustrations, Patricia Fara vividly portrays how Franklin and his colleagues struggled to understand the strange and exciting effects their experiments were producing.
|Publication date:||5th June 2003|
|Publisher:||Icon Books Ltd|
|Categories:||History of science, Electricity, electromagnetism & magnetism,|
Patricia Fara is a Fellow of Clare College at the University of Cambridge, where she teaches history of science. She is also the author of Newton: The Making of Genius (Macmillan) and Sex, Botany and Empire (Icon, forthcoming).More About Patricia Fara