A £1 million public-facing project is all set to reveal more about the early 19th century’s ‘foremost man of science’.
Sir Humphry Davy (1778-1829) discovered more chemical elements than any individual has before or since.
And between October and December 1815, he invented a miners’ safety lamp that came to be known as the Davy Lamp, saving countless lives in Britain and Europe, and vastly improving the nation’s industrial capability.
Now researchers at Lancaster University have secured Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funding to shine more light on Sir Humphry’s fascinating life which saw him rise up through society’s ranks from relatively modest origins to become, just over 200 years ago, the President of the Royal Society.
In 2019, AHRC funding enabled Professor Sharon Ruston and Dr Andrew Lacey, both of the Department of English Literature and Creative Writing, to crowdsource transcriptions of five of Davy’s notebooks, dating from between 1795 and 1805, using the people-powered research platform Zooniverse.
Transcriptions of these notebooks revealed Davy’s creative mind at work - lines of poetry were written among descriptions of chemical experiments, philosophical musings, geological drawings, and accounts of his life.
Following on from this successful pilot project, during which more than 500 participants from around the world transcribed 626 notebook pages in under 20 days, the project team will crowdsource transcriptions of Davy’s entire 75-strong notebook collection.
Crowdsourcing is due to begin in May 2021, and the edited transcriptions will later be published online, alongside images of the notebooks, on a free-to-access website, as part of the Lancaster Digital Library.
Davy kept notebooks throughout his life, but most of the pages of these notebooks have never been transcribed before.
The notebooks show that he was writing poetry in the laboratory while conducting scientific experiments.
Most entries have yet to be dated or considered in the light of what they tell us about Davy, his scientific discoveries, and the relationship between poetry and science.
Online and in-person discussions with participants will enable the project team to find out how transcribing Davy’s notebooks changes their view of how poetry and science could co-exist today.
On the wider benefits of the project, Professor Ruston said: “The consequences of seeing the arts and sciences as divided and separate are serious. Viewing them as ‘two cultures’ hinders our ability to solve major world problems.
“The Davy Notebooks Project will ask what we can learn from the example of Davy’s notebooks that will help us rethink what we understand about the relationship between the arts and sciences in the nineteenth century and today.”Back to News