‘The Common Purposes of Life’ : Science and Society at the Royal Institution of Great Britain book cover
1st Edition

‘The Common Purposes of Life’
Science and Society at the Royal Institution of Great Britain

Edited By

Frank A.J.L. James

ISBN 9781138383425
Published August 23, 2018 by Routledge
472 Pages

FREE Standard Shipping
USD $42.95

Prices & shipping based on shipping country


Book Description

For more than two hundred years the Royal Institution has been at the centre of scientific research and has also provided a cultural location for science in Britain. Within its walls some of the major scientific figures of the last two centuries - such as Humphry Davy, Michael Faraday, John Tyndall, James Dewar, Lord Rayleigh, William Henry Bragg, Henry Dale, Eric Rideal, William Lawrence Bragg and George Porter - carried out much of their research. Their discoveries include sodium, the miners' lamp, the electric dynamo, transformer and generator, the 'thermos' flask, x-ray crystallography and much else besides, all of which brought about major changes in the way we live. The success of the Royal Institution in research and in locating science within general culture led it being used as a model for other institutions, most notably by the founders of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. Much has been written about the scientific work in the Royal Institution, but comparatively little attention has been devoted to the cultural settings which allowed the Royal Institution to become such a major site for the creation of scientific knowledge. This book seeks to rectify this gap by examining various aspects of its history through both thematic and chronological chapters.

Table of Contents

Contents: Preface, Susan Greenfield; Introduction, Frank A.J.L. James; 'A national treasure house of a unique kind' (W.L. Bragg): Some reflections on two hundred years of institutional history, Sophie Forgan; Acquiring and constructing the Royal Institution in Mayfair, H.J.V. Tyrrell; Forging identity: The Royal Institution's visual collections, G.M. Prescott; Establishing the Royal Institution: Rumford, Banks, Davy, David Knight; Running the Royal Institution: Faraday as an administrator, Frank A.J.L. James; John Tyndall at the Royal Institution, J.D. Burchfield; A chemist in the hyperarctic: James Dewar at the Royal Institution, William H. Brock; 'Temporary hotel accommodation'? The early history of the Davy-Faraday Research Laboratory, 1894-1923, Katherine D. Watson; Craftsmanship and Social Service: W.H. Bragg and the Modern Royal Institution, Jeff Hughes; 'A Big Happy Family': The Royal Institution under William and Lawrence Bragg, and the history of molecular biology, Viviane Quirke; L'Affaire Andrade or how not to modernise a traditional institution, Frank A.J.L. James and Viviane Quirke; Appendix 1: Fifty Years at the Royal Institution, Ralph Cory; Appendix 2: Some memories of the Royal Institution and its laboratories 1900-1950, W.J. Green; Appendix 3: Officers and professors of the Royal Institution 1799-2002, Appendix 4: Biographical register; Bibliography; Index.

View More



Frank James is Reader in the History of Science at the Royal Institution where he is also Keeper of Collections. His main research interest is in the history of the physical sciences in the nineeteenth century and their relations with other areas of society and culture. He is editor of the Correspondence of Michael Faraday of which four volumes have so far been published


'... a carefully programmed and executed compilation about one of the most representative British scientific institutions. It balances the internal and external aspects well and defines institutional settings and the role of single personalities.' History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences '... for those interested in the history of British science, popular science, scientific institutions, laboratory equipment or scientific biography, this book will provide hours of informative reading. Time will undoubtedly prove it to be a superior piece of work.' Nuncius