I am broadly interested in early modern (1500-1750) science and technology. I am currently at work on a long-term project studying the intellectual and institutional developments in chemistry at the Parisian Académie Royale des Sciences, 1666-1730, especially in the work its chief chymist Wilhelm Homberg. This project requires a broader examination of 17th and 18th century France, on which I am currently teaching graduate seminars. I also teach classes on Ancient & Medieval Science, the Scientific Revolution, and Science and Religion, as well as specialized graduate seminars such as “Wretched Subjects” (alchemy, astrology, and magic). I also hold an appointment in Chemistry where I teach Organic Chemistry.
My research specialization lies in exploring and understanding the history of chemistry/alchemy. While I am especially active in the study of early modern (1500-1750) chymistry (a term intended to include both what we call “chemistry” and “alchemy” in a time before there existed any clear distinction between the two), I also have a keen interest in the alchemy of the Greek, Islamic, and Medieval periods, and even its revival in the modern era. My broad research goals include resituating alchemy in its due context--intellectual, social, philosophical, technological, religious, and experimental--and displaying its importance and influence in the history of science and in European culture more broadly. I want to understand both how alchemists thought about the world and their work and what they actually did practically on a daily basis. Consequently, my approaches include both the traditional historical methods of textual analysis/contextualization and archival research as well as the more innovative method of replicating alchemical processes in a modern laboratory (using historical apparatus and materials that try to approximate the impure substances ordinarily used in the past) in order more fully to understand the historical texts and their authors’ motivations as well as the practical aims, abilities, and observations of the original practitioners. This dual approach allows for a richer exploration of the interactions between theory and practice, between mind and hand--a feature that characterizes not only alchemy throughout its history but also its descendant, modern chemistry.
I am also committed to bringing the latest and most reliable historical discoveries and understanding to wider audiences outside the academy. Thus, in addition to several scholarly monographs, I have written two books for a general audience, both of which can be used as textbooks: The Scientific Revolution: A Very Short Introduction published by Oxford University Press in 2011 (now available also in Spanish, Chinese, Swedish, Japanese, and soon in Arabic), and The Secrets of Alchemy published by the University of Chicago Press in 2013.