Landmark Faraday notes win UNESCO heritage status

A collection of notebooks in which Michael Faraday recorded some of the 19th century’s most important scientific discoveries are among this year’s additions to a major international register of historically significant documents.

The 10 laboratory notebooks held by the Royal Institution in London charting Faraday’s major experiments in physics and chemistry have been selected as one of just seven items to join the UNESCO UK Memory of the World Register.

Established by the ‘intellectual’ agency of the United Nations in 1992, the scheme aims to preserve and protect important elements of world heritage so that they are permanently accessible to all. An international register and individual country registers include some of the UK’s most exceptional archive riches.

Faraday kept notes of experiments in the Royal Institution’s basement laboratory that led to ground-breaking discoveries such as the principles of electromagnetic rotation and induction. His powerful indexing and retrieval system remains unrivalled and has enabled modern scholars from a variety of disciplinary perspectives to help understand the processes behind scientific discovery.

Frank James, professor of the history of science at the Royal Institution and editor of the collection of Faraday’s complete correspondence published by the IET, was delighted that the notebooks have received UNESCO recognition.

“They contain the origins of now familiar technology such as the electric motor and generator,” he said. “Furthermore, in his formulation of the field theory of electromagnetism, Faraday provided the theoretical foundation of modern communications technology, illustrating the value and legacy of his non-material understanding of the world. Faraday provides an excellent illustration of the Royal Institution’s aims in promoting both the practical and ideological importance of science and evincing the enormous significance of its heritage and collections."

Entry to the Faraday Museum at the RI premises in Albermale Street is free and includes the chance to see Faraday’s laboratory. A two-mile walking tour from there to Somerset House takes in several sites related to Faraday’s life and legacy, including the IET building in Savoy Place, where the Institution’s Archives hold one of the most extensive collections of Faraday manuscript material as well as a number of photographs.

For those unable to get to London, an IET Archives online exhibition takes a more personal view and looks at his life, influences and relationships with other professionals.

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