, Volume 27, Issue 1, pp 159–164 | Cite as

Postmodern Davy

Jan Golinski: The experimental self: Humphry Davy and the making of a man of science. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2016, vi + 259 pp, illus., US$30.00 Cloth & E-book
  • Frank A. J. L. JamesEmail author
Review Essay

In 1790s Cornwall, why should anyone with limited resources throw up a perfectly decent apprenticeship as an apothecary to pursue an uncertain career in science? This not quite the question Golinski seeks to answer in this book, though he does ask how Humphry Davy (1778–1829) came to dedicate himself ‘to a profession that did not exist, or set out to assume a social identity [scientist] that was not yet available?’ (1).

Without Davy’s first step towards a scientific career, the rest would never have happened. In October 1798, his master was persuaded to cancel his indentures and Davy left Penzance, where he had thus far spent his entire life (of nearly 20 years), to work for Thomas Beddoes (1760–1808) as Superintendent of the newly founded Medical Pneumatic Institution (MPI) in Bristol. The outline of Davy’s subsequent career and research is very well known. In Bristol, he discovered the physiological properties of nitrous oxide (laughing gas), began his electrical researches and...


  1. Knight, David. 1985. Davy and Faraday: Fathers and sons. In Faraday rediscovered: Essays on the life and work of Michael Faraday, 1791–1867, ed. David Gooding, and Frank A.J.L. James, 33–49. London: Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Miller, David Philip. 1983. Between hostile camps: Sir Humphry Davy’s presidency of the Royal Society of London 1820–1827. The British Journal for the History of Science 16: 1–47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University College London and the Royal InstitutionLondonEngland

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