Beyond Bakelite: Leo Baekeland and the Business of Science and Invention
The changing relationships between science and industry in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, illustrated by the career of the “father of plastics.” The Belgian-born American chemist, inventor, and entrepreneur Leo Baekeland (1863–1944) is best known for his invention of the first synthetic plastic—his near-namesake Bakelite—which had applications ranging from electrical insulators to Art Deco jewelry. Toward the end of his career, Baekeland was called the “father of plastics”—given credit for the establishment of a sector to which many other researchers, inventors, and firms inside and outside the United States had also made significant contributions. In Beyond Bakelite, Joris Mercelis examines Baekeland’s career, using it as a lens through which to view the changing relationships between science and industry on both sides of the Atlantic in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He gives special attention to the intellectual property strategies and scientific entrepreneurship of the period, making clear their relevance to contemporary concerns. Mercelis describes the growth of what he terms the “science-industry nexus” and the developing interdependence of science and industry. After examining Baekeland’s emergence as a pragmatic innovator and leader in scientific circles, Mercelis analyzes Baekeland’s international and domestic IP strategies and his efforts to reform the US patent system; his dual roles as scientist and industrialist; the importance of theoretical knowledge to the science-industry nexus; and the American Bakelite companies’ research and development practices, technically oriented sales approach, and remuneration schemes. Mercelis argues that the expansion and transformation of the science-industry nexus shaped the careers and legacies of Baekeland and many of his contemporaries.
The Transmutations of Chymistry: Wilhelm Homberg and the Académie Royale des Sciences
This book reevaluates the changes to chymistry that took place from 1660 to 1730 through a close study of the chymist Wilhelm Homberg (1653–1715) and the changing fortunes of his discipline at the Académie Royale des Sciences, France’s official scientific body. By charting Homberg’s remarkable life from Java to France’s royal court, and his endeavor to create a comprehensive theory of chymistry (including alchemical transmutation), Lawrence M. Principe reveals the period’s significance and reassesses its place in the broader sweep of the history of science.
Principe, the leading authority on the subject, recounts how Homberg’s radical vision promoted chymistry as the most powerful and reliable means of understanding the natural world. Homberg’s work at the Académie and in collaboration with the future regent, Philippe II d’Orléans, as revealed by a wealth of newly uncovered documents, provides surprising new insights into the broader changes chymistry underwent during, and immediately after, Homberg. A human, disciplinary, and institutional biography, The Transmutations of Chymistry significantly revises what was previously known about the contours of chymistry and scientific institutions in the early eighteenth century.
The Spanish Disquiet: The Biblical Natural Philosophy of Benito Arias Montano
In this book, historian María M. Portuondo takes us to sixteenth-century Spain, where she identifies a community of natural philosophers and biblical scholars. They shared what she calls the “Spanish Disquiet”—a preoccupation with the perceived shortcomings of prevailing natural philosophies and empirical approaches when it came to explaining the natural world.
Making Time: Astronomical Time Measurement in Tokugawa Japan
What is time made of? We might balk at such a question, and reply that time is not made of anything—it is an abstract and universal phenomenon. In Making Time, Yulia Frumer upends this assumption, using changes in the conceptualization of time in Japan to show that humans perceive time as constructed and concrete.
In the mid-sixteenth century, when the first mechanical clocks arrived in Japan from Europe, the Japanese found them interesting but useless, because they failed to display time in units that changed their length with the seasons, as was customary in Japan at the time. In 1873, however, the Japanese government adopted the Western equal-hour system as well as Western clocks. Given that Japan carried out this reform during a period of rapid industrial development, it would be easy to assume that time consciousness is inherent to the equal-hour system and a modern lifestyle, but Making Time suggests that punctuality and time-consciousness are equally possible in a society regulated by a variable-hour system, arguing that this reform occurred because the equal-hour system better reflected a new conception of time — as abstract and universal—which had been developed in Japan by a narrow circle of astronomers, who began seeing time differently as a result of their measurement and calculation practices. Over the course of a few short decades this new way of conceptualizing time spread, gradually becoming the only recognized way of treating time.
World’s Fairs on the Eve of War
Since the first world’s fair in London in 1851, at the dawn of the era of industrialization, international expositions served as ideal platforms for rival nations to showcase their advancements in design, architecture, science and technology, industry, and politics. Before the outbreak of World War II, countries competing for leadership on the world stage waged a different kind of war–with cultural achievements and propaganda–appealing to their own national strengths and versions of modernity in the struggle for power. Most of the existing literature about world’s fairs tends to focus either on one particular event, or only on fairs in the US. This book takes a novel approach by studying five fairs and expositions from across the globe, and before the Second World War–including three that took place (Paris, 1937; Dusseldorf, 1937; and New York, 1939), and two that were in development before the war began (Tokyo, 1940; and Rome, 1942). It is one of the first books to consider representations of science and technology at world’s fairs as influential cultural forces, and at a critical moment in history, when tensions and ideological divisions between political regimes would soon lead to war.
The Secrets of Alchemy
In The Secrets of Alchemy, Lawrence M. Principe, one of the world’s leading authorities on the subject, brings alchemy out of the shadows and restores it to its important place in human history and culture. By surveying what alchemy was and how it began, developed, and overlapped with a range of ideas and pursuits, Principe illuminates the practice. He vividly depicts the place of alchemy during its heyday in early modern Europe, and then explores how alchemy has fit into wider views of the cosmos and humanity, touching on its enduring place in literature, fine art, theater, and religion as well as its recent acceptance as a serious subject of study for historians of science. In addition, he introduces the reader to some of the most fascinating alchemists, such as Zosimos and Basil Valentine, whose lives dot alchemy’s long reign from the third century and down to the present day. Through his exploration of alchemists and their times, Principe pieces together closely guarded clues from obscure and fragmented texts to reveal alchemy’s secrets, and—most exciting for budding alchemists—uses them to recreate many of the most famous recipes in his lab, including those for the “glass of antimony” and “philosophers’ tree.” This unique approach brings the reader closer to the actual work of alchemy than any other book.
New Narratives in Eighteenth-Century Chemistry
The 18th century has long been considered critical for the development of modern chemistry, yet many features of the period remain largely unknown or unexplored. This volume details new approaches and topics to build a more complex view of chemical work during the period. Themes include late-phase alchemy, professionalization, chemical education, and the links and relations between chemistry and pharmacy, medicine, agriculture, and geology.
Urban Modernity: Cultural Innovation in the Second Industrial Revolution
At the close of the 19th century, industrialization and urbanization marked the end of the traditional understanding of society as rooted in agriculture. Urban Modernity examines the construction of an urban-centered, industrial-based culture—an entirely new social reality based on science and technology. The authors show that this invention of modernity was brought about through the efforts of urban elites—businessmen, industrialists, and officials—to establish new science- and technology-related institutions. International expositions, museums, and other such institutions and projects helped stem the economic and social instability fueled by industrialization, projecting the past and the future as part of a steady continuum of scientific and technical progress. The authors examine the dynamic connecting urban planning, museums, educational institutions, and expositions in Paris, London, Chicago, Berlin, and Tokyo from 1870 to 1930. In Third Republic Paris, politicians, administrators, social scientists, architects, and engineers implemented the future city through a series of commissions, agencies, and organizations; in rapidly expanding London, cultures of science and technology were both rooted in and constitutive of urban culture; in Chicago after the Great Fire, Commercial Club members pursued civic ideals through scientific and technological change; in Berlin, industry, scientific institutes, and the popularization of science helped create a modern metropolis; and in Meiji-era Tokyo (Edo), modernization and Westernization went hand in hand.
Secret Science: Spanish Cosmography and the New World
The discovery of the New World raised many questions for early modern scientists: What did these lands contain? Where did they lie in relation to Europe? Who lived there, and what were their inhabitants like? Imperial expansion necessitated changes in the way scientific knowledge was gathered, and Spanish cosmographers in particular were charged with turning their observations of the New World into a body of knowledge that could be used for governing the largest empire the world had ever known.
As María M. Portuondo here shows, this cosmographic knowledge had considerable strategic, defensive, and monetary value that royal scientists were charged with safeguarding from foreign and internal enemies. Cosmography was thus a secret science, but despite the limited dissemination of this body of knowledge, royal cosmographers applied alternative epistemologies and new methodologies that changed the discipline, and, in the process, how Europeans understood the natural world.
Science in Victorian Manchester: Enterprise and Expertise
The evolution of an urban scientific community under the pressures of conceptual and social change is the main focus of this book. Manchester was Victorian Britain’s leading industrial city. In order to describe and analyze the transformation of science in the 18th century, Robert Kargon closely examines Manchester through successive stages. In so doing, he traces the evolution of science from an activity pursued by gentlemen-amateurs to a highly specialized profession.
At the end of this process, the author shows a major transformation in our understanding of the nature of science can be discerned: scientific knowledge, it was realized, could be produced. Science was no longer regarded primarily as the divine design rendered into laws of nature, but rather as a method, or instrument, to be applied to novel areas of human endeavor. Science had become on the one hand enterprise, and on the other expertise. In each chapter, Kargon relates the changing conception of science and its social role to the birth, growth, and character of the city’s scientific institutions.
The contours of the scientific community—its interests, concerns, and approaches to what it came to see as critical problem—were shaped by its civic environment. Its character, in turn, responded to the development of the disciplines represented within it. As the sciences increased in specialization and complexity during the course of the 19th century, they placed new stress upon the community, affecting the composition of its membership and the nature of its leading institutions. The scientific frontier reacted upon Manchester just as Manchester acted upon it. Now available in paperback, this classic work in history includes a new introduction by the author.
Invented Edens: Techno-Cities of the Twentieth Century
Industrialization created cities of Dickensian squalor that were crowded, smoky, dirty, and disease-ridden. By the beginning of the 20th century, urban visionaries were looking for ways to improve both living and working conditions in industrial cities. In Invented Edens, Robert Kargon and Arthur Molella trace the arc of one form of urban design, which they term the techno-city: a planned city developed in conjunction with large industrial or technological enterprises, blending the technological and the pastoral, the mill town and the garden city. Techno-cities of the 20th century range from factory towns in Mussolini’s Italy to the Disney creation of Celebration, Florida. Kargon and Molella show that the techno-city represents an experiment in integrating modern technology into the world of ideal life. Techno-cities mirror society’s understanding of current technologies, and at the same time seek to regain the lost virtues of the edenic pre-industrial village. The idea of the techno-city transcended ideologies, crossed national borders, and spanned the entire 20th century. Kargon and Molella map the concept through a series of exemplars. These include Norris, Tennessee, home to the Tennessee Valley Authority; Torviscosa, Italy, built by Italy’s Fascist government to accommodate synthetic textile manufacturing (and featured in an early short by Michelangelo Antonioni); Ciudad Guayana, Venezuela, planned by a team from MIT and Harvard; and, finally, Disney’s Celebration—perhaps the ultimate techno-city, a fantasy city reflecting an era in which virtual experiences are rapidly replacing actual ones.
The Evolution of American Ecology, 1890–2000
In the 1890s, several initiatives in American botany converged. The creation of new institutions, such as the New York Botanical Garden, coincided with radical reforms in taxonomic practice and the emergence of an experimental program of research on evolutionary problems. Sharon Kingsland explores how these changes gave impetus to the new field of ecology that was defined at exactly this time. She argues that the creation of institutions and research laboratories, coupled with new intellectual directions in science, were crucial to the development of ecology as a discipline in the United States.
The main concern of ecology—the relationship between organisms and environment—was central to scientific studies aimed at understanding and controlling the evolutionary process. Kingsland considers the evolutionary context in which ecology arose, especially neo-Lamarckian ideas and the new mutation theory, and explores the relationship between scientific research and broader theories about social progress and the evolution of human civilization.
By midcentury, American ecologists were leading the rapid development of ecosystem ecology. At the same time, scientists articulated a sharp critique of modern science and society in the postwar context, foreshadowing the environmental critiques of the 1960s. As the ecosystem concept evolved, so too did debates about how human ecology should be incorporated into the biological sciences. Kingsland concludes with an examination of ecology in the modern urban environment, reflecting on how scientists are now being challenged to overcome disciplinary constraints and produce innovative responses to pressing problems.
The Evolution of American Ecology, 1890–2000 offers an innovative study not only of the scientific landscape in turn-of-the-century America, but of current questions in ecological science.
Alchemy Tried in the Fire: Starkey, Boyle, and the Fate of Helmontian Chymistry
Winner of the 2005 Pfizer Prize from the History of Science Society.
What actually took place in the private laboratory of a mid-seventeenth century alchemist? How did he direct his quest after the secrets of Nature? What instruments and theoretical principles did he employ?
Using, as their guide, the previously misunderstood interactions between Robert Boyle, widely known as “the father of chemistry,” and George Starkey, an alchemist and the most prominent American scientific writer before Benjamin Franklin as their guide, Newman and Principe reveal the hitherto hidden laboratory operations of a famous alchemist and argue that many of the principles and practices characteristic of modern chemistry derive from alchemy. By analyzing Starkey’s extraordinary laboratory notebooks, the authors show how this American “chymist” translated the wildly figurative writings of traditional alchemy into quantitative, carefully reasoned laboratory practice—and then encoded his own work in allegorical, secretive treatises under the name of Eirenaeus Philalethes. The intriguing “mystic” Joan Baptista Van Helmont—a favorite of Starkey, Boyle, and even of Lavoisier—emerges from this study as a surprisingly central figure in seventeenth-century “chymistry.” A common emphasis on quantification, material production, and analysis/synthesis, the authors argue, illustrates a continuity of goals and practices from late medieval alchemy down to and beyond the Chemical Revolution.
For anyone who wants to understand how alchemy was actually practiced during the Scientific Revolution and what it contributed to the development of modern chemistry,Alchemy Tried in the Fire will be a veritable philosopher’s stone.
The Cold War and American Science: The Military-Industrial-Academic Complex at MIT and Stanford
Focusing on MIT and Stanford, Leslie offers a critical look at American science in the making. He reveals a regrettable series of misplaced priorities and missed opportunities that have characterized the recent history of science and technology in this country.
Modeling Nature: Episodes in the History of Population Ecology
The first history of population ecology traces two generations of science and scientists from the opening of the twentieth century through 1970. Kingsland chronicles the careers of key figures and the field’s theoretical, empirical, and institutional development, with special attention to tensions between the descriptive studies of field biologists and later mathematical models. This second edition includes a new afterword that brings the book up to date, with special attention to the rise of “the new natural history” and debates about ecology’s future as a large-scale scientific enterprise.