British photographic history

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Publication: The Collected Letters of Humphry Davy

Oxford University Press has just published a four-volume set The Collected Letters of Humphry Davy. Davy is a significant figure in both the history of science and literary history. One of the foremost chemists of the early nineteenth century, he was the first person to inhale nitrous oxide. He pioneered electrochemistry, using the Voltaic pile to isolate more chemical elements than any other scientist; and he invented the miners' safety lamp that came to be known as the 'Davy lamp'. His lectures and papers played a key part in the professionalisation of science, in the growth of scientific institutions, and in the emergence of scientific disciplines. He was the protege of Thomas Beddoes and Joseph Banks, and the mentor of Michael Faraday. He was also a poet, and a friend of poets, including Wordsworth, Southey, Scott, and Byron.

Davy has important connections with many of the people that sit on the edge of the pre-history of photography. Of these Thomas Wedgwood is perhaps the most important with his 1802 paper being written up by Davy for publication by the Royal Institution. Other names such as Banks, Faraday, the Herschels, Home and Wollaston were all part of the network of scientists, experimenters and the learned societies of the day that, indirectly or directly, were connected to photography. 

At £425 the set will be beyond the reach of individuals but it will be worth seeking out in libraries to understand the individual and institutional networks that Davy was a part of. 

See more here:  

With thanks to Tim Fulford. 

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