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Science Lectures for the People


The eye-piece of the Newall Refractor from "Why is the Earth's Chemistry as it is, Lecture I" by Sir Norman Lockyer

Manchester’s pre-eminence as a powerhouse of scientific research has been recognised by its designation as European City of Science 2016. To celebrate its achievements, The University of Manchester Library has digitised the so-called 'Science Lectures for the People' given by eminent Victorian scientists in the 19th century, so they are freely available for everyone to see online.

An early example of scientific outreach, these ground-breaking 'Penny Lectures' were delivered to packed audiences in Manchester during the 1860s and 1870s. Initiated by noted chemist Henry Roscoe, topics ranged from epidemic delusions to spectrum analysis and the indestructability of matter.

Often quirkily illustrated, the lectures helped to popularise science and raise the profile of Manchester as a hub of scientific and technological progress. They were praised at the time by leading scientific journal Nature for making science accessible to the general public: "Many of the lectures are so fascinating that it is difficult to put the volumes aside….whilst within the comprehension of all classes, they will also be found not unworthy of perusal by men of culture."

Professor Danielle George MBE, Associate Dean of Teaching & Learning at The University of Manchester, said:

"I would urge anyone to go out and read these amazing lectures. It doesn’t matter where you are - an academic at the University or someone at home inspired by science - they’re freely available for everybody."

Using 21st-century digital technology to open up its archives, The University of Manchester Library is giving a new lease of life to cutting-edge science of the past and inspiring scientists of the future. Science and technology have a huge impact on every aspect of our day to day lives. By shedding light on Manchester’s pioneering contribution to scientific education in the past, the University is highlighting its current international prowess and its pivotal role in years to come.

The lectures can be accessed at

Updated: Wed, Mar 8, 2017

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