Those who followed Leonhard Euler’s wave theory of light often re-engaged its relation to sound. The study of electricity and magnetism resonated with ongoing initiatives in light and sound, reflecting also wider philosophical ideas about the unity of nature epitomized by Naturphilosophie. This chapter examines the intertwined study of electricity and acoustics by Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, Johann Ritter, and Ernst Chladni. The search to unify the forces of nature often relied on analogies with sound, which in turn looked to electricity for new tools. Félix Savart studied the vibration patterns of violins; after reviewing this work, Jean-Baptiste Biot joined Savart in working on electromagnetism. In the aftermath of Thomas Young’s work, waves became a newly attractive explanatory approach to the problems of electricity. Building directly on Chladni’s sound figures, Hans Christian Ørsted discovered the synthesis of “electromagnetism” that brought a new unity to these two formerly separate forces, realizing the unitive hopes of Naturphilosophie. Ørsted’s discovery involved realizing the dynamic, transverse action of electromagnetism, qualities he had previously studied in vibrating plates.
Throughout the book where various sound examples are referenced, please see
Keywords: History of electricity and magnetism, Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, Naturphilosophie, Vibrating bodies, Johann Ritter, Ernst Chladni, Félix Savart, Jean-Baptiste Biot, Hans Christian Ørsted, Electromagnetism
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