Wherever possible, tables have been used.
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Theochem , , , — In part, my purpose then was to propose the history of chemistry as a subject for the sixth form and undergraduate chemistry syllabus. That remains an aim and the present chapter is concerned additionally with new trends in recent research on the history of alchemy and chemistry up to the end of the eighteenth century.
In , Allen Debus expressed his view of the value to be derived from studying the history of chemistry in association with intellectual, political and social history. As discussed in Chapter 1, several 20 Chapter 2 new general histories of chemistry have appeared in recent years, each with a particular aim and readership in view. Each affords some space to early chemistry.
This deals with the rise of European science in general and poses the over-arching question why science developed in Europe rather elsewhere e. China, India or the Arab world. Within this broad remit chemistry is treated inter alia with other sciences and is placed in changing political, social and economic contexts from Paracelsus to the chemical revolution.
Chemistry, still in its infancy as a distinct subject, was considered capable of enlightening the public about the composition of matter and its transformations, whether natural or contrived by man.
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The reputation of chemistry as an agent of progress was less tarnished then than it has since become, and the endeavour to bring chemistry to the attention of the general non-scientific reader has been pursued assiduously ever since. Two recent books continue that tradition as they survey developments in the history of chemistry from early-modern times and strategies for improving its public relations.
The French generally honour their important scientists as much as their political, military and literary giants, while French historians of science often pay at least as much attention to theories, language and terminology as to the experimental discoveries of individuals. In these, he shows how discussion of the discoveries by chemists in the eighteenth century forced the formulation of a revised theoretical structure for the discipline, leading to a new definition of chemistry and public recognition of the role of chemistry in industry and society.
The development of chemical concepts and their place in the history of chemistry also forms the basis of a Polish contribution to these new approaches. It also mentions some less well known, though none the less important, Polish chemists.
Another fresh approach has recently appeared in a collection of papers written between and by Trevor H. Levere, covering a group of topics important in the historiography of chemistry. The subjects covered in these papers extend from the late eighteenth-century chemical revolution to thoughts on the role of chemists and chemistry in nineteenth-century society.
Although Metzger completed her popular history in , it was not published until After a revival of interest in ,23—25 it has now been translated into English and reissued in a bid to place Metzger once more firmly amongst women scientists.
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The evolution of new experimental techniques requires continual up-dating and testing of apparatus. The history of the chemical laboratory and of laboratory practices is far more elusive than that of the printed sources, but in recent years there has been growing interest in the history of the chemical laboratory, its design and equipment.
The reassessment of historical figures has gained in popularity and the trend has also extended to the history of science. There 22 Chapter 2 is a renewed interest in the special techniques of biographical writing as the broader question of the value of biography in the history of science has been reconsidered. Robert Schofield has made a new study of Joseph Priestley and his work in pneumatic chemistry,33 while in a new biography of Humphry Davy, David Knight reassesses the early development of post-phlogistic chemistry. These often provide accurate biographical details in concise form, although they usually include other scientists, inventers and medics as well as chemists.
The preparation of drugs and medicines, dyes and perfumes, bleaching and dyeing cloth, tanning hides for leather, cookery and the preserving of food, and the extraction of pure metals from their ores all use chemistry in contributing to technological and economic progress. The applications of these and other chemical processes in crafts and society can be traced back to the earliest recorded history of ancient civilizations in Egypt, Sumeria, China, India and South America. Ancient Chinese science and technology has been most fully documented in the monumental work of the late Joseph Needham.
These early sources gained from Chinese experience indirectly, perhaps through travel across Asian trade routes and contact with the West by Jesuit missionaries. In recent years interest in the history of alchemy and early chemistry has increased, perhaps encouraged in part by a burgeoning popular interest in occult phenomena. Alchemy and astrology taken together were thought to provide access to the hidden structures and processes of nature.
Compounds of Transition Metals
The proceedings of this conference include a substantial bibliography of works on the history of alchemy. The links between alchemy and cosmology and the contributions of alchemy to an understanding of Medieval thought are also important. Although many alchemists held strong religious beliefs, they were by no means orthodox Christians, while it is intriguing to note the extent to which Jesuits were willing to accept alchemical practices. This has been explored with respect to the reception of alchemy by seventeenth-century Jesuits.
Jung, who obsessively emphasized the sexual and generative connotations of alchemical procedures intended to lead to the formation of gold from lead and other base metals. Deep scholarship is required by those who would unravel its secrets and the temptation to read later scientific ideas into obscure symbolic writings is considerable, especially if it is also motivated by national pride. One example of this type of approach is found in an attempt to explain the alchemical work of the Polish alchemist Michael Sendivogius in seventeenth century chemical terms.
Nevertheless, that there is an intellectual continuity between late Medieval alchemy and seventeenth-century chemistry cannot be denied, although the precise points of demarcation are not always easy to identify. There has recently been a return to study of the alchemy of this period, resulting in the revelation of many more of its details and a firmer understanding of its diversity.
For example, while most alchemical theories of transmutation were based on Platonic and Aristotelian concepts of the nature of matter, some early alchemists also held corpuscular views. A recent study examines the influences exerted by this work on Renaissance commentators on alchemy. In their futile search for transmutation, alchemists devised chemical techniques and designs for apparatus, together with a long list of substances with known properties and uses, which passed into the corpus of chemical and medical knowledge from the time of Paracelsus and Agricola.
On the practical side, the role of distillation has already been mentioned, but many other alchemical techniques also passed virtually unchanged into the work of early European chemists. Thus, not only the language and methods of the alchemists, but also their discoveries of metals, acids and other chemical substances had an important and lasting influence on the early history of chemistry.
Some accounts of early alchemical and other laboratories have been studied Chemistry Before 25 recently, as have some archaeological remains Chapter 9. Among these the most exciting is the discovery of a large quantity of apparatus belonging to a sixteenth-century metallurgical laboratory in Lower Austria. Investigations at this site are continuing.
Alchemy offered ways of concealing chemical methods and discoveries. There was also a strong element of chemical technology with its emphasis on practical methods and the necessary furnaces, apparatus and tools to carry them out. The importance of alchemical thought for the rise of early modern chemistry is clarified in these studies.
If Newton is to be regarded as the most seminal thinker in eighteenth-century science, his interest in alchemy and the part it played in forming his scientific outlook and system cannot be ignored. An indexed catalogue of original works by and about Paracelsus, published between the early sixteenth and late eighteenth centuries, has recently been issued by Glasgow University Library. It lists many previously inaccessible works and is an invaluable resource for Paracelsian scholars. Among these, antimony compounds were especially popular with Paracelsus and his followers.
It becomes increasingly apparent that the history of early chemistry is indeed a continuous endeavour reaching back through alchemy in an unbroken chain of attempts to solve the same problems concerning the nature of matter and its changes. Paracelsian chemistry was founded upon alchemical ideas, but even in the seventeenth century there were the stirrings of a more rational, less esoteric science.
John C. Powers presents a perceptive study of the early emergence of chemistry from ancient alchemical symbolism in late-seventeenth and early-eighteenth-century France.