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Volta : Science and Culture in the Age of Enlightenment - Giuliano Pancaldi


Science and Culture in the Age of Enlightenment

Paperback Published: 1st May 2005
ISBN: 9780691122267
Number Of Pages: 400

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Giuliano Pancaldi sets us within the cosmopolitan cultures of Enlightenment Europe to tell the story of Alessandro Volta--the brilliant man whose name is forever attached to electromotive force. Providing fascinating details, many previously unknown, Pancaldi depicts Volta as an inventor who used his international network of acquaintances to further his quest to harness the power of electricity. This is the story of a man who sought recognition as a natural philosopher and ended up with an invention that would make an everyday marvel of electric lighting.

Examining the social and scientific contexts in which Volta operated--as well as Europe's reception of his most famous invention--"Volta" also offers a sustained inquiry into long-term features of science and technology as they developed in the early age of electricity. Pancaldi considers the voltaic cell, or battery, as a case study of Enlightenment notions and their consequences, consequences that would include the emergence of the "scientist" at the expense of the "natural philosopher."

Throughout, Pancaldi highlights the complex intellectual, technological, and social ferment that ultimately led to our industrial societies. In so doing, he suggests that today's supporters and critics of Enlightenment values underestimate the diversity and contingency inherent in science and technology--and may be at odds needlessly.

Both an absorbing biography and a study of scientific and technological creativity, this book offers new insights into the legacies of the Enlightenment while telling the remarkable story of the now-ubiquitous battery.

Industry Reviews

"This is by far the best book about Volta in English... It is contextual, unawed, and enriched by new manuscript material. It is also far more than just a biography. Based on this study of one individual's electrical activities, Pancaldi makes general arguments about the culture of science at the end of the Enlightenment."--Patricia Fara, Times Literary Supplement "In this detailed and ambitious book, Volta's life and the fascinating and complicated patterns that led to the battery are beautifully described... Every chapter has an interesting and original thesis, shows detailed and painstaking knowledge of manuscripts and adds to our knowledge of Volta and his time."--Fabio Bevilacqua, American Scientist "An insightful chronicle of an individual genius riding global tides of cultural transformation... A fascinating mix of science and biography."--Booklist "Giuliano Pancaldi's engaging book contributes substantially to a reappraisal of the sciences of the Enlightenment, as well as providing a wealth of information about Volta's life and accomplishments... [I]t is an impressive accomplishment that significantly advances the historiography of the sciences in enlightened Europe."--Jan Golinski, American Historical Review "This is a remarkable study of Alessandro Volta's science of electricity in its social and cultural context, one that adds significantly to the scholarship on Enlightenment science and technology. The first monograph on Volta to appear in English, it offers an in-depth contextual analysis of his experimental practice founded on Guiliano Pancaldi's detailed knowledge of the sources."--Massimo Mazzotti, Technology and Culture "This is by far the best book about Volta in English... It is also far more than just a biography. Based on this study of one individual's electrical activities, Pancaldi makes general arguments about the culture of science at the end of the enlightenment."--Patricia Fara, Chemical Heritage "Giuliano Pancaldi's study of Alessandro Volta reveals the vast international trade in scientific knowledge that, by the end of the eighteenth century, had transformed the promotion of experiment. Pancaldi's treatment of Volta as a major figure in the revolutionary world of the late eighteenth century is an important addition to studies of a scientific public."--Larry Stewart, Business History Review

Illustrations xi
Acknowledgments xiii
Abbreviations xvii
Introductionp. 1
The Making of a Natural Philosopher From Amateur, to Expert, to Public Servantp. 7
The Town 9
The Familyp. 12
Lifestylep. 14
Educationp. 15
"A More Enlightened Age"p. 19
Literary Interestsp. 21
Views on Religion and Secularizationp. 22
From Amateur, to Expert, to Public Servantp. 27
Emotional Lifep. 33
Investigative Stylep. 39
Conclusionp. 41
Enlightenment Science South of the Alps The Italian Scientific Community in the Age of Voltap. 44
The Soil and the Institutionsp. 48
The Scholars: Provenance and Fields of Interestp. 52
Prosopographyp. 56
The Circulation of Enlightenment Literaturep. 62
Views from the Outsidep. 65
Conclusionp. 70
The Electrophorus Theory, Instrument Design, and the Social Uses of Scientific Apparatusp. 73
Fire, Magnetism, Electricityp. 76
"Vindicating Electricity"p. 83
Attraction and the Atmospheresp. 86
Disenchanted Theoristp. 90
Scientific Instruments and Their Social Usesp. 91
The Path to the Electrophorusp. 95
Instrument Designp. 100
Publicizing Discoveryp. 104
Conclusionp. 108
Volta's Science of Electricity Conception, Laboratory Work, and Public Recognitionp. 110
Reluctant Theoristp. 110
Midrange Conceptualization and a New Machine: Capacity, Tension, "Actuation," and the Condensatorep. 112
Natural Philosopher or Inventor of Amusements Eacute;lectriques?p. 121
Explanatory Models and Presentation Strategies: True Causes vs. Instrumentalismp. 125
Volta's Laboratory: Measuring Electricityp. 129
Volta on Coulombp. 137
Conclusionp. 141
The Cosmopolitan Network Volta and Communication among Experts in Late Enlightenment Europep. 146
Overcoming Isolationp. 149
Exploring the Republic of Letters: The Neighborhoodsp. 153
Facing the Peers: Paris in 1782
156Anglophiliap. 160
Continental Europe and the German-Speaking Countriesp. 164
After 1789
168Conclusionp. 172
The Battery Invention, Instrumentalism, and Competitive Imitationp. 178
Galvanism, Electrometer in Handp. 179
The Hunt for Weak Electricityp. 186
The Electricity of Animalsp. 190
Nicholson's Contribution to Volta's Discoveryp. 196
Building the Batteryp. 202
Conclusion: Invention, Instrumentalism, and Competitive Imitationp. 207
Appropriating Invention The Reception of the Voltaic Battery in Europep. 211
Spreading the Newsp. 212
Replicating the Instrumentp. 221
Appropriating the Batteryp. 224
A Name for All Purposesp. 246
From Philosophic Instrument to Patented Devicep. 248
Conclusionp. 250
The Scientist as Hero Volta and the Uses of Past Science in the Industrial Erap. 257
Admitted to "Galileo's Tribune"p. 258
Secular Saint in the Positivist Calendarp. 259
"The Triumph of Science"p. 261
In the Nobel Laureates' Erap. 263
Conclusionp. 270
Conclusion: Science, Technology, and Contingency Enlightenment Legaciesp. 273
Inventionp. 273
"Useful Knowledge" and Unintended Consequencesp. 275
"The Quantifying Spirit"p. 278
Investmentp. 279
Value Assessmentsp. 280
Contingencyp. 283
Enlightenment Legaciesp. 286
Notesp. 291
Bibliographyp. 337
Indexp. 367
Table of Contents provided by Publisher. All Rights Reserved.

ISBN: 9780691122267
ISBN-10: 0691122261
Audience: Tertiary; University or College
Format: Paperback
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 400
Published: 1st May 2005
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Country of Publication: US
Dimensions (cm): 23.5 x 15.88  x 2.54
Weight (kg): 0.58