Since the 19th century, some physicists, notably Albert Einstein, have attempted to develop a single theoretical framework that can account for all the fundamental forces of nature – a unified field theory. Classical unified field theories are attempts to create a unified field theory based on classical physics. In particular, unification of gravitation and electromagnetism was actively pursued by several physicists and mathematicians in the years between the two World Wars. This work spurred the purely mathematical development of differential geometry.
This article describes various attempts at formulating a classical (non-quantum), relativistic unified field theory. For a survey of classical relativistic field theories of gravitation that have been motivated by theoretical concerns other than unification, see Classical theories of gravitation. For a survey of current work toward creating a quantum theory of gravitation, see quantum gravity.