The Science of Showmanship

in When Physics Became King

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print March 2005 | ISBN: 9780226542010
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226542003 | DOI:
The Science of Showmanship

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This chapter focuses on the crucial sciences of electricity and heat. The chapter looks at how developments in electricity emerged from concerns with showmanship and utility and how the new science of heat responded to the problem of maximizing the efficiency of steam engines in industrial Britain. Throughout the nineteenth century, the most visible of the physical sciences in many ways was the burgeoning science of electricity. Electricity provided the technology for a whole range of vivid and spectacular demonstrations of nature's powers, and of man's powers over nature. As the century advanced electricity gave rise to a whole range of new industrial technologies as well. These kinds of links between electricity and the worlds of showmanship and industry were hardly new by the nineteenth century. Exhibition played a crucial role in nineteenth-century culture for a number of reasons. In many ways exhibitionism became more culturally acceptable as the nineteenth century went on. In the first decades of the century, while showmanship was certainly central to the natural philosopher's activities that showmanship was restricted to a particular context. Electricity's very visibility and the way in which it increasingly permeated Victorian culture made its disciplining increasingly crucial.

Keywords: sciences; electricity; heat; industrial Britain; industrial technology; physics

Chapter.  12595 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of Science and Technology

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