Making Sense of Maxwell's <i>Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism</i> in Mid-Victorian Cambridge

in Masters of Theory

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print July 2003 | ISBN: 9780226873749
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226873763 | DOI:
Making Sense of Maxwell's Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism in Mid-Victorian Cambridge

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Maxwell had devoted much of his research effort to recasting Michael Faraday's novel conception of electric and magnetic lines of force in the form of a new, mathematical, field theory of electromagnetism, based on dynamical ether and the principle of the conservation of energy. During the 1860s, Maxwell had also served as a member of the British Association Committee on electrical standards, an experience that familiarized him with the instruments and techniques of experimental electricity, the definition and measurement of fundamental electrical units, and the theory and operation of the electric telegraph. The Cambridge reception of Maxwell's Treatise is presented as a vehicle for exploring the relationship between training and research in the university in the 1870s and early 1880s. A number of historians of science have discussed the achievements of individual British “Maxwellians.” Much of Maxwell's presentation in the Treatise relied upon the physical intuition and case-by-case problem solutions he had developed through long years of experience.

Keywords: Maxwell; Cambridge; magnetic lines; electric; energy

Chapter.  29172 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of Science and Technology

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