Thesis ID: CBB411319578

What Theories Are Made Of: How Industry and Culture Shaped Maxwell's Theories of Electromagnetism (2021)


James Clerk Maxwell's theories of electromagnetism are uniquely Victorian products. Maxwell and his physics have traditionally been viewed as aloof and disinterested, dating to the mid-to-late-19th century, but not party to the cultural, industrial, political, economic, and environmental turmoil of the era. This dissertation examines often ignored corners of Maxwell's electromagnetic theories and those of his successors to demonstrate that they were shaped by the technologies of their time. These technologies, steam engine governors, capacitors, and undersea telegraph cables are each, in their own way, responsible for the varying forms taken by Maxwellian electromagnetic theory. Each of these technologies also has its own history. These histories connect these technologies and thus Maxwellian theory to the newly emerging concept of efficiency, as well as the colonialism, economics, religion, and ecology of the British Empire. Governors, capacitors, and submarine telegraph cables serve as a historiographical bridge, allowing for the exploration of how empire-wide forces shaped the minutiae of Maxwellian electromagnetic theory.

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Authors & Contributors
Bordoni, Stefano
Chalmers, Alan Francis
D'Agostino, Salvatore
Hou, Yude
Simpson, Thomas
Brenni, Paolo
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science
Physics in Perspective
Ziran Kexueshi Yanjiu (Studies in the History of Natural Sciences)
Nuncius: Annali di Storia della Scienza
Centaurus: International Magazine of the History of Mathematics, Science, and Technology
Science and Education
Green Lion Press
Prometheus Books
University of California, Los Angeles
Icon Books
Cambridge University Press
Pavia University Press
Electricity; magnetism
Models and modeling in science
Science education and teaching
Maxwell, James Clerk
Lorentz, Hendrik Antoon
Helmholtz, Hermann Ludwig Ferdinand von
Hertz, Heinrich Rudolph
Larmor, Joseph
Lodge, Oliver
Time Periods
19th century
20th century
20th century, early
Great Britain

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