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'A function of the time': the Cavendish Society and its Postprandial Proceedings

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A century ago, research students in the Cavendish Laboratory wrote and sang humorous songs about science at their annual dinner, written to well-known tunes. This talk will explore what the ‘Postprandial Proceedings of the Cavendish Society’ reveal about the culture of the Cambridge physics research community, and will include performances of these songs by the HPS chorus.

As the number of research students grew at the Cavendish Laboratory in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, so did their collective sense of social and professional identity. At their annual dinner, the research students sang humorous songs specially written by members of the laboratory to well-known tunes or airs, or even Gilbert and Sullivan numbers. With teasing affection, gentle parody and witty wordplay, the songs celebrated the scientific work and social life of the laboratory, its exemplary past achievements and its iconic figures. This talk will show how the ‘Postprandial Proceedings of the Cavendish Society’ helped constitute the research community, and will explore what the songs reveal about the culture of the Cavendish Laboratory and Cambridge physics in the ‘string and sealing wax’ era of Rayleigh, Thomson and Rutherford.

This event is part of the Cambridge Science Festival and has been made possible by a grant from the East of England Museum Hub .

This talk is part of the Whipple Museum of the History of Science series.

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