Exploded systems: views of alchemy in the 19th century

As has been highlighted in previous posts, we historians of science are on our guard against being whiggish in our discussions of past science but, in the process, have a tendency to be just that in our treatment of historiography: we have a whiggish tendency to see a natural progress in historical analysis towards our current standards and outlook. We take it for granted that early historians of science – usually scientists themselves – were historiographical innocents, and that they were intolerant of anything that diverged from what they viewed as the main line of scientific advance. If we look, for example, at the treatment of alchemy in 19th-century histories of science, it is undoubtedly the case that more was known about the subject, and it attracted more sympathetic analysis, at the end of the century than at the beginning. We can’t just put this down to natural and inevitable “progress” in historiography but we can ask who read, collected and published on alchemical texts, and why?Read More »

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David Willetts and the history of science

There has been an interesting discussion on Mersenne, the history of science listserv, prompted by James Sumner, who has kindly allowed me to post his email to the Mersenne subscribers.

Dear Listmembers 

Those of us keen, for whatever reason, to gauge the attitude of the current UK government towards the history of science might find enlightenment in the thoughts of David Willetts, Minister of State for Universities and Science, as presented at the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham on Monday. Or possibly not. His speech begins as follows: Read More »