About Michael Faraday
Michael Faraday (1791-1867) is one of the most significant and famous scientific figures who ever lived and worked on these islands. Equivalent to Galileo, Newton, Darwin, Maxwell or Einstein (the latter two greatly admired and expanded Faraday’s electro-magnetic field theory). Faraday recorded making his landmark discoveries of electro-magnetic rotations and induction, as well as many others, mostly in the basement laboratory of the Royal Institution, in a set of ten meticulously kept laboratory notebooks that now sit within the Ri’s archival collection.
From a humble background the son of a dissenting blacksmith, Faraday could not go to university, but instead trained as a bookbinder. Following a complex and highly contingent set of events in 1813 he became laboratory assistant to the Royal Institution. His subsequent discoveries in physics and chemistry contributed to his rise within the Royal Institution to become Fullerian Professor of Chemistry in 1833. His entire career was spent in the Royal Institution which contributed to his becoming one of the most famous men of the day.
The Royal Institution’s unique collection of Michael Faraday’s original laboratory notebooks in which he charts some of the most important physical and chemical discoveries made during the nineteenth century, have received international recognition as one of the latest additions to the UNESCO UK Memory of the World Register. These laboratory notebooks are the only science representation out of the list of seven items added this year.
Established by UNESCO in 1992, the vision of The Memory of the World programme is that the world's documentary heritage belongs to all, should be fully preserved and protected for all and permanently accessible to all without hindrance.
Michael Faraday (1791-1867) is one of the most significant and famous scientific figures of British history, having radically transformed our understanding of the world with the discoveries he made in his basement laboratory of the Royal Institution. His discoveries of electro-magnetic rotations and induction transformed the practice of technology through the development of electrical devices, such as the motor, transformer and generator, which remain fundamental to technology today.
Faraday’s meticulous note-taking provided him with a powerful indexing and retrieval system that 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 Faraday’s correspondence, said:
‘I am delighted that Michael Faraday’s laboratory notebooks have received this UNESCO recognition. They contain the origins of now familiar technology such as the electric motor and generator. Furthermore, in his formulation of the field theory of electro-magnetism, Faraday provided the theoretical foundation of modern communications technology, illustrating the value and legacy of his non-material understanding of the world.
‘Thus 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.’
Furthermore, Faraday was the most important science communicator of the middle third of the nineteenth century and a great advocate for promoting science to as broad an audience as possible. He played an instrumental role in the Royal Institution’s Christmas Lectures, delivering 19 series. These included ‘The chemical history of a candle’ published as a book in 1861 and arguably the most popular science book ever published.
Michael Faraday’s original laboratory can be viewed in the Royal Institution’s museum which is free to visit. Find out more about his life and work on our history pages.
About the UNESCO Memory of the World Programme
United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is the ‘intellectual’ agency of the United Nations and was established in 1945. The UNESCO Memory of the World Programme aims to facilitate preservation of the world's documentary heritage, to assist universal access and to increase awareness worldwide of the existence and significance of this documentary heritage through both an international Register and individual country Registers. This globally recognised status celebrates some of the UK’s most exceptional archive riches.