About the Project

Aims

Sir Humphry Davy (1778-1829) was perhaps the most famous chemist of the early nineteenth century. Following on from a successful Zooniverse pilot project (March-December 2019), during which we intended to transcribe five of Davy’s notebooks but actually managed to do eight, this project aims to transcribe the remainder of Davy’s notebooks, which number seventy-five in all. (As we write at the start of the full project, that’s eight down, sixty-seven to go!).

The early notebooks selected for the pilot run began to reveal, in a new and exciting way, how Davy’s mind worked and how his thinking developed. From the work we’ve done so far, it’s clear that Davy’s notebooks, containing details of his scientific experiments, poetry, geological observations, travel accounts, and personal philosophy, present us with a wide range of fascinating insights, many of which are unique to the notebooks. Having said this, some passages – such as those in which Davy discusses sex, gender, and race, sometimes employing crude stereotypes in the process – are, of course, much less edifying. There remains much work to be done on Davy’s notebooks, and much more to discover: aside from the eight pilot project notebooks, many of the pages of Davy’s notebooks have never been transcribed before. By transcribing these notebooks, we’ll find out more about Davy the man, his life and work, and the cultures and networks of which he was part.

The transcriptions produced by Zooniverse participants, and images of the manuscript pages, will later be published online on Lancaster Digital Collections: a new platform for hosting and showcasing digital archives and image collections. Everyone who submits a transcription – however short – to this project will be given the option to be listed in the Acknowledgements section of this website – it’s your work, and you should be acknowledged! This is entirely optional, and at the sole discretion of each individual participant.

Davy’s Notebooks in the Royal Institution (RI) and Beyond

The RI holds an important collection of seventy largely unpublished notebooks written by Davy. Additionally, five of Davy’s notebooks, containing geological notes, are held at Kresen Kernow (‘Cornwall Centre’, for those of us unfamiliar with the language). Davy held several positions at the RI (Director of the Laboratory, 1801-25; Professor of Chemistry, 1802-12; Honorary Professor, 1813-23) and did his most important research there. Born in Penzance, Davy retained an important connection to Cornwall for the whole of his life, and published on the geology of his home county. Additionally, we know of three Davy notebooks, containing his observations on fish and angling, that are currently missing.

Notebooks We’re Transcribing Now on Zooniverse (RI and Kresen Kernow) Tranches 1-5: all RI; listed in their order of release on Zooniverse:

RI MS HD/13/E [RETIRED]

Brown notebook with ‘Before 1800’ on front (8″ x 6½”), containing ‘A Letter on the Pretended Inspiration of the Quakers and Other Sectaries’; 60 manuscript pages;* dating from around 1798.

[* NB – In this and the following descriptions, the number of ‘manuscript pages’ may include front and endpapers, in accordance with Davy’s habit of sometimes writing on these].

RI MS HD/13/G [RETIRED]

Dark brown notebook (7½” x 5″), containing scientific notes, poetry, and notes on various books; 170 manuscript pages; dating from around 1803-07.

RI MS HD/13/H [RETIRED]

Brown hardcover notebook (7″ x 4½”), containing poetry and scientific notes; 77 manuscript pages; date(s) unknown (early, though).

RI MS HD/20/B [RETIRED]

Marbled hardcover notebook (quarto), containing experimental notes; 243 manuscript pages; dating from 1799-1800.

RI MS HD/21/A [RETIRED]

Light brown hardcover notebook with mathematical equations on front, containing mathematical notes; 187 manuscript pages; dating from 1795-97.

RI MS HD/21/B [RETIRED]

Marbled hardcover notebook, containing notes of a draft treatise on observations on education and the formation of the human intellect, and nitrous oxide experiments; 25 manuscript pages; dating from 1800.

RI MS HD/22/A [RETIRED]

Marbled hardcover notebook, ruled (9″ x 7″), containing philosophical notes on consciousness, existence, language, perception, and ideas, and scientific notes on nitrous oxide, and the nature of light, heat, and electricity; 67 manuscript pages; dating from 1800, with some additions February 1805.

RI MS HD/22/B [RETIRED]

Marbled hardcover notebook with brown spine and corners, ruled (7½” x 6″), containing experiments on galvanism and physical science; 177 manuscript pages; dating from 1799-1801.

RI MS HD/06 [RETIRED]

Brown hardcover laboratory notebook, containing accounts of experiments made in the laboratory of the Royal Institution over several years, including lists of chemical apparatus needed and purchased; 265 manuscript pages; dating from 1805-09.

RI MS HD/18/A [RETIRED]

Green and black marbled hardcover notebook with red leather binding, with stain from missing sticker, containing agricultural chemistry lecture notes, on atmosphere and soil; 41 manuscript pages; watermark 1802, dating from c. 1805.

RI MS HD/18/B [RETIRED]

Green and black marbled hardcover notebook with red leather binding, with sticker on cover, containing agricultural chemistry lecture notes; 93 manuscript pages; watermark 1802, dating from c. 1805.

RI MS HD/18/D [RETIRED]

Green and black marbled hardcover notebook with red leather binding, with sticker on cover, containing agricultural chemistry lecture notes, on manures; 47 manuscript pages; watermark 1802, dating from c. 1805.

RI MS HD/18/C [RETIRED]

Green and black marbled hardcover notebook with red leather binding, with sticker on cover, containing agricultural chemistry lecture notes, on manures; 109 manuscript pages; watermark 1802, dating from c. 1805.

RI MS HD/18/E [RETIRED]

Green and black marbled hardcover notebook with red leather binding, containing agricultural chemistry lecture notes, on husbandry; 73 manuscript pages; watermark 1802, dating from c. 1805.

RI MS HD/19/F [RETIRED]

Green and black marbled hardcover notebook with red leather binding, with sticker on cover, containing agricultural chemistry lecture notes; 83 manuscript pages; watermark 1802, dating from c. 1805.

RI MS HD/21/C [RETIRED]

Light brown hardcover notebook, with possible stain from missing sticker, containing lectures on agricultural chemistry in John Davy’s hand; 179 manuscript pages; undated.

RI MS HD/20/A [RETIRED]

Green and black marbled hardcover notebook with red leather binding, containing lecture and experimental notes; 323 manuscript pages; dating from 1799-1800.

RI MS HD/13/I [RETIRED]

Black leather-covered notebook (7.25″ x 5″), containing poetry, chemical and scientific notes, and calculations; 159 manuscript pages; dating from 1810-12, with some earlier material (concerning sodium and potassium) c. autumn 1807.

RI MS HD/15/A [RETIRED]

Pocket-sized marbled notebook (3.5″ x 8″), containing Irish geological drawings, including sketches of the Giant’s Causeway; 59 manuscript pages; dating from c. 1806.

RI MS HD/15/B [RETIRED]

Marbled hardcover notebook (7″ x 4.5″) with red leather binding, containing notes on the geological composition and landscape of Ireland, with some sketches; 113 manuscript pages; dating from 1806.

RI MS HD/15/C [RETIRED]

Marbled hardcover notebook (4” x 8”), containing pencil notes on geology and science, including sketches and some poetry, with some notes in Michael Faraday’s hand; 195 manuscript pages; inside cover dated 4 February 1814.

RI MS HD/07 [RETIRED]

Brown hardcover laboratory notebook, containing notes of chemical experiments, begun shortly after Davy’s isolation of boron (1807 claimed; 1809 published); 700 manuscript pages; dating from 1809-12.

RI MS HD/15/D [RETIRED]

Marbled hardcover notebook (7” x 4.5”), containing notes and sketches on Irish geology, with some notes on chemistry; 98 manuscript pages; dating from c. 1806-07.

RI MS HD/15/G [RETIRED]

Brown leather-bound pocket notebook (4 1/2″ x 6 1/2″), containing geological notes and sketches about travels in Wales and Ireland; 152 manuscript pages; dating from 1805-21.

RI MS HD/15/H [RETIRED]

Brown leather-bound notebook (7 1/2″ x 5″), containing lectures on geology, material on Cornish geology, experiments on phosphorus and sulphur, the methods used for the decomposition of the fixed alkalis, and experiments with potassium and barium; 148 manuscript pages; dating from 1806.

RI MS HD/15/I [RETIRED]

Marbled hardcover notebook (8″ x 6 1/2″), containing geological drawings (some coloured) done in Ireland, with explanatory notes; 124 manuscript pages; dating from 1806.

RI MS HD/15/J [RETIRED]

Marbled hardcover notebook (8″ x 6 1/2″), containing philosophical and scientific notes including on tanning and the life of plants, experiments on the extract of catechu and observations on the collision of steel, a narrative, and some poetry; 114 manuscript pages; undated (but used at an early point: inside cover states ‘At Penzance; At Bristol’, and p. 110 states ‘1801-1804/5’).

RI MS HD/19/E [RETIRED]

Marbled hardcover notebook with dark red spine and corners, containing draft essays/lectures ‘On the species of matter’ and ‘Of magnetic action’, and a draft of the introductory lecture for the courses of 1805 on the growth of human knowledge; 82 manuscript pages; dating from 1802/?1805.

RI MS HD/22/C [RETIRED]

Marbled hardcover notebook with dark red spine and corners (9 1/4″ x 7 1/4″) with four loose leaves, containing poetry, scientific and philosophical notes, an RI lecture, geological sketches, notes on the imagination, and notes on soils and agriculture; 158 manuscript pages; dating from 1805.

RI MS HD/04/B3 [RETIRED]

Lecture notes on the ‘Decomposition of the Earths’, written by Davy and an amanuensis; 16 manuscript pages; dating from 1811.

RI MS HD/02/D1 [RETIRED]

Lecture notes on electrochemistry, written for Davy by an amanuensis; 36 manuscript pages; dating from 1808.

RI MS HD/02/D2 [RETIRED]

Lecture notes on electrochemistry, written by Davy and an amanuensis; 56 manuscript pages; dating from 1808.

RI MS HD/02/D3 [RETIRED]

Lecture notes on electrochemistry, written by Davy; 39 manuscript pages; dating from 1808.

RI MS HD/02/D4 [RETIRED]

Lecture notes on electrochemistry, written by Davy; 37 manuscript pages; dating from 1808.

RI MS HD/02/D5 [RETIRED]

Lecture notes on electrochemistry, written by Davy; 34 manuscript pages; dating from 1808.

RI MS HD/14/J [LIVE]

Green notebook with leather spine and corners (8″ x 5″), containing philosophical and scientific notes, and miscellaneous material in the hands of Jane Davy and John Davy; 368 manuscript pages; dating from 1819-29.

RI MS HD/03/A/1 [RETIRED]

Lecture notes on electrochemistry, written by Davy; 54 manuscript pages; dating from 1809.

RI MS HD/03/A/3 [RETIRED]

Lecture notes on electrochemistry, written by Davy and an amanuensis; 58 manuscript pages; dating from 1809.

RI MS HD/03/A/9 [RETIRED]

Lecture notes on electrochemistry, written by Davy; 60 manuscript pages; dating from 1809-10.

RI MS HD/03/B/3 [RETIRED]

Lecture notes on electrochemistry, written by Davy during a visit to Ireland to deliver courses of lectures at the Royal Dublin Society; 32 manuscript pages; dating from 1811.

RI MS HD/03/B/4 [LIVE]

Lecture notes on electrochemistry, written by Davy; 57 manuscript pages; dating from 1810.

RI MS HD/03/B/6 [RETIRED]

Lecture notes on electrochemistry, written by Davy; 30 manuscript pages; dating from 1810.

RI MS HD/03/B/5 [LIVE]

Lecture notes on electrochemistry, written by Davy; 34 manuscript pages; dating from 1810.

RI MS HD/04/B/1 [LIVE]

Lecture notes on electrochemistry, written by Davy, made during a visit to Ireland to deliver courses of lectures at the Royal Dublin Society; 10 manuscript pages; dating from 1811.

RI MS HD/07/A [LIVE]

Laboratory notebook, containing notes of chemical experiments, written by various individuals including Davy and Michael Faraday (then working as his assistant); 256 manuscript pages; dating from 1813-21.

Notebooks Coming up on Zooniverse (RI and Kresen Kernow)

Tranche 5: all RI:

RI MS HD/08/A

RI MS HD/13/A

RI MS HD/14/C

RI MS HD/14/L

RI MS HD/12

RI MS HD/13/J

RI MS HD/14/G

RI MS HD/14/K

Previously Transcribed Notebooks (All RI)

The notebooks transcribed during the pilot run, listed in their order of release on Zooniverse, were:

RI MS HD/13/C [RETIRED]

Brown notebook (7″ x 4″), containing poems, essays, and philosophical and scientific notes; 150 manuscript pages; dating from 1801-02.

RI MS HD/13/D [RETIRED]

Paper covered notebook (8½” x 5½”), containing poetry, philosophy, and scientific notes; 28 manuscript pages; dating from 1800.

RI MS HD/13/F [RETIRED]

Brown notebook with laurel wreath pattern on front (8½” x 6½”), containing philosophical notes and poetry; 140 manuscript pages; dating from 1795-96.

RI MS HD/15/E [RETIRED]

Notebook with parchment cover (6½” x 4″), containing poetry and geological notes; 158 manuscript pages; dating from around 1804.

RI MS HD/15/F [RETIRED]

Red leather-bound notebook (6″ x 4″); containing philosophical notes, poetry, and sketches; 136 manuscript pages; dating from around 1805.

RI MS HD/14/I [RETIRED]

Marbled notebook, red spine and corners (6½” x 9″); containing poetry, notes for Davy’s later-published works Salmonia (1828) and Consolations in Travel (1830), and sketches; 146 manuscript pages + leaves a-e at front; dating from 1813-26.

RI MS HD/14/E [RETIRED]

Calfskin-covered notebook, with vertical flap and cord (6″ x 4″); contains draft poetry (some copied from other notebooks), miscellaneous notes, and a daily journal (27 June-13 July 1827); 188 manuscript pages; dating from 1827.

RI MS HD/20/C [RETIRED]

Marbled hard-covered notebook, in quarto size; contains Davy’s notes of the period on chemistry and galvanic action; 174 manuscript pages; dating from 1800.

Davy’s Life and Poetry

The videos below, which featured in the FutureLearn Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) ‘Humphry Davy: Laughing Gas, Literature, and the Lamp’, provide a brief introduction to Davy’s life and poetry.

Overview of Davy’s Life

Davy Among the Poets I

Davy Among the Poets II

Acknowledgements

The Davy Notebooks Project team gratefully acknowledge the assistance of the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) in funding the full project (2021-) through its Standard Research Grant scheme. The pilot project (2019) was funded through the AHRC’s Follow-on Funding for Impact and Engagement scheme.