Partington, James Riddick

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(b. Bolton Lancashire, England, 20 June 1886; d. Weaverham Cheshire, England, 9 October 1965)

chemistry, dissemination of knowledge

Partington studied chemistry at the University of Manchester and, after a short period of research in organic chemistry under Arthur Lapworth, received an 1851 Exhibition scholarship. He worked under Nernst in Berlin on the specific heats of gases, continuing his research after his appointment as lecturer in chemistry at Manchester in 1913. During World War I he carried out investigations with E. K. Rideal for the Ministry of Munitions on the purification of water and the oxidation of nitrogen; he was subsequently knighted for this work. From 1919 to 1951 he was professor of chemistry at Queen Mary College, London University, where he continued his research on the specific heats of gases.

Remembered primarily as a historian of chemistry Partington was gifted with an encyclopedic mind and a great facility for writing. His chief work, AHistory of Chemistry is an outstanding accomplishment that surpasses any work on the subject since Herman Kopp’s Geschichte Chemie (1843–1847). Its four volumes deal with the history of chemistry from antiquity to the present. Although at his best in describing the personalities and contributions of the great pioneers, Partington also included accounts of their less important contemporaries. His method consisted of summarizing the successive accomplishments of contributors to chemistry, rather than of organizing the history of the subject around a given sequence of themes or topics. The vein is bio graphical, not narrative, but the comprehensive accounts permit the reader to constitute his own narrative.

In 1965 Partington was awarded the Sarton Medal of the American History of science Society during the Eleventh International Congress of the History of Science held in Warsaw and crawcow.


I. Original Works Partington published several historical papers in Annals of Science They include: Joan Baptista van Helmont, “ 1 (1936), 359–384; “Historical studies on the phlogiston theory, ’ 2 (1937), 361–404; 3 (1938), 1–58, 337–371; 4 (1939), 113–149 written with D. McKie; “The Origins of the Atomic Theory,” 4 (1939) 245–282; and “Jermias Benjamin Richter and the Law of Reciprocal Proportions; “ 7 (1951), 173–198; 9 (1953) 289–314.

His early books are Higher Mathematics for Chemical Students (London, 1911; 4th ed., 1931); a Textbook of Thermodynamics (London, 1913); The Alkali Industry (London, 1918); A Textbook of Inorganic Chemistry for University Students (London, 1921; 6th ed., 1950); The Nitrogen Industry (London, 1922), written with L. H. Parker; Chemical Thermodynamics (London, 1924; 4th ed., rev. and enl., 1950); The The Specific Heats of Gases (London, 1924), written with W. G. Shilling; Calculations in Physical Chemistry (London-Glasgow, 1928), written with S. K. Tweedy; The Composition of Water (London, 1928); and Everyday Chemistry (London, 1929; 3rd ed., 1952).

Subsequent works are A School Course of Chemistry (London, 1930); Origins and Development of Applied Chemistry. (London , 1935); A short History of chemistry (London, 1937, 3rd ed., rev. and enl. 1965); A College course of Inorganic Chemistry (London, 1939) and Intermediate Chemical Calculations (London, 1939) written with K. Stratton.

His later writings are General and Inorganic Chemistry for University Students (London, 1964; 4th ed., 1966); An Advanced Treatise on Physical chemistry , 4vols, (London, 1949–1953); A History of Greek Fire and Gunpowder (Cambridge, 1960); The life and Work of William Higgins, Chemist (1763–1825) (New York, 1960), written with T. S. Wheeler; and A. History of Chemistry 4 vols (London-New York, 1961–1970).

II. Secondary Literature See the obituary notice in The Times (11 Oct. 1965) p. 12.

Harold Hartley