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What made scientists start to think about what was previously 'forces-exerted-by' (Newtonian view) to fields (e.g. electric fields and magnetic fields)?

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  • $\begingroup$ FWIW, I was trying to work this out earlier today for another question. I found a claim that Faraday first used the term "field" in relation to electrostatics. I couldn't find any reference to who first applied it to magnetism (if that was done before Maxwell brought E & M together). $\endgroup$ – The Photon Aug 10 '18 at 3:00
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    $\begingroup$ More history of science? $\endgroup$ – Farcher Aug 10 '18 at 6:34
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    $\begingroup$ You may be interested in the site History of Science and Mathematics $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Aug 10 '18 at 14:14
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The concept of field lines originated with Michael Faraday, who didn't have sufficient mathematical background to understand how brilliant it was.

I have only skimmed this article, but it appears well researched and seems to address your question: Origins of the Field Concept in Physics, by Ernan McMullin PDF. My reason for nominating Faraday is that I was addressing the concept of a field as a "form of matter" as Hans Ohanian puts it. The concept of field in fluid dynamics is more mathematical than physical.

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  • $\begingroup$ I found the article by Ernan McMullin very informative, I recommend reading it. In retrospect we can see that in trying to understand the world the researchers were very reluctant to introduce a concept of a field that participates in physics taking place. That is what occurred to me over the course of reading that article: a reluctance to introduce a field concept, so much so that I now wonder why eventually it was introduced. $\endgroup$ – Cleonis Aug 10 '18 at 20:04
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Scientists needed a theory to explain why forces could be conducted through a vacuum. There is nothing inside the vacuum (i.e. no mass) and therefore only a field concept can explain why an electrostatic or magnetic force or even gravitational force and be transmitted through "nothing".

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