A Most Amazing Scene of Wonders: Electricity and Enlightenment in Early America

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Oktober 2006



Benjamin Franklin's invention of the lightning rod is the founding fable of American science, but Franklin was only one of many early Americans fascinated by electricity. As a dramatically new physical experience, electricity amazed those who dared to tame the lightning and set it coursing through their own bodies. Thanks to its technological and medical utility, but also its surprising ability to defy rational experimental mastery, electricity was a powerful experience of enlightenment, at once social, intellectual, and spiritual. In this compelling book, James Delbourgo moves beyond Franklin to trace the path of electricity through early American culture, exploring how the relationship between human, natural, and divine powers was understood in the eighteenth century. By examining the lives and visions of natural philosophers, spectacular showmen, religious preachers, and medical therapists, he shows how electrical experiences of wonder, terror, and awe were connected to a broad array of cultural concerns that defined the American Enlightenment. The history of lightning rods, electrical demonstrations, electric eels, and medical electricity reveals how early American science, medicine, and technology were shaped by a culture of commercial performance, evangelical religion, and republican politics from mid-century to the early republic. The first book to situate early American experimental science in the context of a transatlantic public sphere, "A Most Amazing Scene of Wonders" offers a captivating view of the origins of American science and the cultural meaning of the American Enlightenment. In a story of shocks and sparks from New England to the Caribbean, Delbourgobrilliantly illuminates a revolutionary New World of wonder.


James Delbourgo is Assistant Professor of History and Chair of the Program in History and Philosophy of Science at McGill University.


The history of electricity in eighteenth-century America is very often reduced to the iconic image of Benjamin Franklin alone in a rainstorm holding aloft his kite to which is attached a key--the key to American science some might say. James Delbourgo's admirable new book reveals that Franklin was but one player in the development and integration of electrical science into the American consciousness during the Enlightenment. Indeed, "A Most Amazing Scene of Wonders" introduces readers to a host of overlooked electricians (the contemporary term given those who studied or performed with electricity) such as T. Gale, Ebenezer Kinnersley, Elisha Perkins, Archibald Spencer, Henry Moyes, and Samuel Domjen, to name only a few of Delbourgo's intriguing cast of characters. With his fine book Delbourgo joins a growing list of scholars who have lately considered provincialism, issues of the body, questions of vitalism, and indeed of "Enlightenment" itself in eighteenth-century studies of Nature and its workings...Delbourgo's analysis, which illustrates that very little in eighteenth-century America, whether religious, political, medical, or public spectacle, happened independently of electricity. The result is a compelling cultural history of electricity and of early America that deserves a wide readership. Delbourgo's book is yet another example of very exciting times in the history of science.--Jeffrey R. Wigelsworth"University of Toronto Quarterly" (11/01/2008)
EAN: 9780674022997
ISBN: 0674022998
Untertitel: Sprache: Englisch.
Erscheinungsdatum: Oktober 2006
Seitenanzahl: 367 Seiten
Format: gebunden
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