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date: 22 August 2019

Abstract and Keywords

This article focuses on developments in electricity and magnetism up to the time of Alessandro Volta. Until the late 1600s electricity as a subject reduced to what has been aptly termed the ‘amber effect’. At the beginning of the century William Gilbert broadened the class of objects that could produce the effect and at the same time introduced a fundamental distinction between it and the properties of the lodestone, or magnet. Gilbert’s Scholastic understanding of magnetism contrasts markedly with what seems to be a quasi-mechanical understanding of electricity, the latter being more congenial to the post-Scholastic way of thinking about nature. This article first provides an overview of experiments on electric objects, including the Leiden jar, before discussing Volta’s quantification of the distinction between amount of electricity and electric tension around 1780.

Keywords: electricity, magnetism, Alessandro Volta, William Gilbert, lodestone, magnet, experiments, electric objects, Leiden jar, electric tension

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