A Spectrum of Discussion: Gabriel Lippmann’s Invention of “Color Photography” in the British Photographic Press, February–May 1891

Lunchtime Lectures
Tuesday, September 17, 2019
12:00 p.m.–1:00 p.m.
Science History Institute
315 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106
United States

Join us for a Lunchtime Lecture by Daniel Jon Mitchell, research fellow and director of the Institute’s Center for Historical Research.

For much of the 19th century, color photography was thought to be an impossibility. The announcement in February 1891 that the French experimental physicist Gabriel Lippmann had produced a colored image of an electromagnetic spectrum consequently generated widespread publicity. In the photographic press this ranged from incredulous dismissal to slavish triumphalism, which in France stemmed from patriotic traditions of photography and wave optics. Seeking a more balanced historical perspective on Lippmann’s achievement, Mitchell examines its reception in Britain. How did Lippmann succeed in convincing photographic chemists that his method was “physical” rather than chemical? Why was his spectral image perceived as such a decisive step toward full-color photography? How could the nature of his work be fixed even before it was viewed publicly in London? The answers to these questions open up the interfaces between science and visual art, theory and impression, and nationalism and internationalism at the fin de siècle.

About the Speaker

Daniel Jon Mitchell (Narrow Crop)

Daniel Jon Mitchell

Daniel Jon Mitchell.

Daniel Jon Mitchell joined the Science History Institute in August 2019 as a research fellow and the director of the Center for Historical Research. He specializes in the history of European physical science from the 19th century onward, especially in France and Britain, with a particular focus on the intellectual and sociocultural origins of the physics discipline and the longue-durée development of measurement, quantification, and mathematical representation. His work is characterized by a close study of scientific practice and content in relation to both knowledge exchange between different epistemic communities and the different forms of cultural and technological legitimization of that knowledge. Particularly through the institutional provision for science, he addresses these interactions in the context of government, industry, and society on local and national scales and in comparative international context. Daniel has formerly held research fellowships at RWTH Aachen University in Germany, the University of Cambridge, Harvard University, and the Science Museum, London.

About the Series

Lunchtime Lectures are a series of (mostly) weekly, informal talks on the history of chemistry or related subjects, including the history and social studies of science, technology, and medicine. Based on original research (sometimes still in progress), these talks are given by local scholars for an audience of the Institute staff and fellows and interested members of the public.