If only someone could have invented the internet by 1825. Not only would we have reached unimagined realms of communication by now, but we would have a full 189 years of Christmas lectures to stream online at our leisure. A production of the Royal Institution in the United Kingdom, the Christmas lectures began with the educational endeavors of electromagnetism and electrochemistry pioneer Michael Faraday. Between 1827 and 1860, Faraday gave the first Christmas lectures on the London grounds of the Royal Institution, holding forth on subjects like chemistry, electricity, and matter in an effort to get the general public excited about science. According to one of his soundest principles of lecturing, “a flame should be lighted at the commencement and kept alive with unremitting splendour to the end.” Generations of scientific lecturers have stepped forward to light and keep that splendid flame to this day.
At the top of the post, we have the first of Carl Sagan’s six Christmas lectures on Earth, Mars, and our solar system from 1977. Just above, you can watch the first of Richard Dawkins’ 1991 Christmas lecture series entitled Growing Up in the Universe. Though Sagan and Dawkins ostensibly geared their lectures toward kids — just as Faraday intended his scientific spectacles for a “juvenile audience” — don’t let that turn you off if you’ve already reached adulthood. In fact, grown-ups may stand to gain more than kids, given our tendency to binge-watch. Why not give yourself an educational holiday treat by plowing through the past several years of Christmas lectures archived at the Royal Institution’s web site? This Christmas, they’ve got professor Danielle George on “how the spark of your imagination and some twenty first century tinkering can change the world” — so get ready to gather ’round with all the future world-changers you know, young or old.
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.