Lunchtime seminar series – 21st April: Hattie Lloyd (University College London)

CHSTMSeminar Hattie Lloyd

Humphry Davy’s Instruments of War: Science and Patriotism in the Press, 1801-1812

Humphry Davy (1778-1829), Professor of Chemistry at the Royal Institution of Great Britain, suggested to his audience that his newly isolated metals, sodium and potassium, could be used as powerful weapons in destructive naval warfare. Davy’s suggestion was reported in the accounts of his Royal Institution lectures in the contemporary press, in both newspapers and periodical magazines. Set in the frame of the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815), this paper will examine those press reports, arguing that the language used to describe sodium and potassium as potential weapons of war compliments the rhetoric surrounding other incendiary weapons of the time, a rhetoric that would today be described as being couched in the language of deterrents.

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