One model, the resonance model, shaped scientific understanding of optical dispersion from the early 1870s to the 1920s, persisting across dramatic changes in physical conceptions of light and matter. I explore the ways in which the model was transmitted across these conceptual divides by analyzing the use of the model both in the development of theories of optical dispersion and in the interpretation of experimental data. Crucial to this analysis is the integration of the model into quantum theory because of the conceptual incompatibility between the model and quantum theory. What is more, a quantum understanding of optical dispersion set the grounds for the emergence of the first theories of quantum mechanics in 1925. A long-term history of the model’s transmission from the 1870s to the 1920s illuminates the ways in which the continuity of knowledge is possible across these discontinuities.

This content is only available via PDF.