From Weimar 1773 to Jena 2004
The rebuilt electrical machine of Georg Christoph Schmidt
In the decades around 1800, a remarkable proportion of the German intellectual elite chose to live in the small and rather poor duchy Sachsen-Weimar-Eisenach. This includes writers (Goethe, Schiller, Wieland, Herder, Novalis), philosophers (Fichte, Schelling, Hegel, Fries), publishers (Bertuch, Frommann), and many more.
The Friedrich Schiller University of Jena has set up a Collaborative Research Centre (http://www2.uni-jena.de/ereignis/), funded by the DFG (German Research Foundation) in order to investigate what has been termed the Phenomenon Weimar-Jena. Over a projected period of twelve years, ca. 40 researchers from various disciplines will not only try to retrace relations between the leading figures, but to place them in the context of many less well-known persons as well as the general social and economic background.
The Institute for the History of Medicine, Science and Technology contributes to this endeavour by the reconstruction of scientific practices (http://www2.uni-jena.de/biologie/ehh/haeckel.htm). It has turned out that both poetry and philosophy are much more connected to the mundane practice of science in Jena as had hitherto been suspected. Although – apart from Ritter, Goethe, Döbereiner, and perhaps Oken – no famous scientists were present in the duchy, a closer look has revealed an active and lively scientific practice.
Science in Weimar and Jena, however, was not tied to any one particular institution. It is precisely the interest in the interaction between the university in Jena, the court in Weimar, private scientific societies, the emerging bourgeois intellectual class, and the trades of instrument making and of publishing that has made Schmidt’s electrical machine an excellent object of study.
Schmidt’s electrical machine and its replication
The machine was built by Georg Christoph Schmidt, who was both court mechanic in Weimar and a lecturer at Jena University. He published a book-length description of the machine, entitled Beschreibung einer Elektrisir-Maschine und deren Gebrauch (Jena 1773), which included two copper plates made by himself. Apart from a glass-plate and Leyden jar which (owing to curatorial reasons) could not be analysed, nothing of the original machine has been preserved. Therefore Schmidt’s book served as the main source for the replication. The machine has been rebuilt for three reasons.
1) The process of rebuilding promises to provide information about the crafts necessary to build such a machine. The focus has been placed on the sophisticated procedures of glass melting and glass polishing. As a result, Schmidt’s machine was able to be retraced to a particular style of glass making, as it was practised in the Thuringia Forest.
2) The process of rebuilding the machine as well as reconstructing its later use promises to clarify the relation between figures, the text, and the device itself. It needs to be elucidated whether Schmidt’s book was meant as a set of instructions for building a copy of the machine or as a manual for the use of a machine purchased from Schmidt. Moreover, the spectrum of phenomena described by Schmidt – and hopefully reproducible with the rebuilt machine – will allow for assessment of the connection between machine and book in their roles in courtly entertainment, academic lectures, and commercial distribution.
3) The rebuilt machine has been and will be used in a lab-course for students of the history of science. It allows for the inclusion of material practice and experimentation in the otherwise merely text-based curriculum. This leads to discussions about the yields and limits of using replications for the historiography of science in general.
For further information, please contact:
Prof. Dr. Dr. Olaf Breidbach Dr. Jan Frercks Dr. Heiko Weber
Tel. ++49/3643/949500 Tel. ++49/3643/949513 Tel. ++49/3643/949508
Olaf.Breidbach@uni-jena.de Jan.Frercks@uni-jena.de Heiko.A.Weber@uni-jena.de
Institute for History of Medicine, Science and Technology
Friedrich Schiller University of Jena
D – 07745 Jena