Frank James
Michael Faraday and the Chemistry of War

Frank James


In 1829 Faraday was appointed a member of the Resident Scientific Committee of the British Admiralty and Professor of Chemistry at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich. For the Admiralty Faraday quickly became their only scientific adviser in which role he commented on the chemical aspects of many military projects including the plan to use ships filled with burning sulphur to attack the Russian Baltic naval fortress of Cronstadt during the Anglo-French war against Russia in the mid-1850s. At the Royal Military Academy the future officers of the Royal Artillery and Royal Engineers for two decades learnt their chemistry from Faraday. This talk will consider how effective or otherwise was the contribution of Faraday and other scientific figures to developing Britain’s military capability and the impact this had on scientific practice in the nineteenth century.

Frank James - Short Biography#

Frank James is Professor of the History of Science at the Royal Institution, where he is also Head of Collections and Heritage. His main research concentrates on the physical sciences in the nineteenth century and how they relate to other areas of society and culture, for example art, business, media, religion, technology and the military. He is editor of the Correspondence of Michael Faraday, of which five volumes (out of six) have been published. He has edited a number of collections of essays including ‘The Common Purposes of Life’ – a set of essays on the Royal Institution. His Michael Faraday: A Very Short Introduction was published by OUP in November 2010.

He has been President of the Newcomen Society for the History of Engineering and Technology, the British Society for the History of Science and the History of Science Section of the British Science Association. He is chair of the National Organising Committee for the XXIVth International Congress for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine to be held in Manchester in July 2013 and was recently elected a Corresponding Member of the Académie internationale d’histoire des sciences.

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