Cover image for Instruments and experimentation in the history of chemistry
Instruments and experimentation in the history of chemistry
Holmes, Frederic Lawrence.
Publication Information:
Cambridge, Mass. : MIT Press, [2000]

Physical Description:
xxi, 415 pages : illustrations (some color) ; 24 cm.
Archaeology of chemistry / Alchemy, assaying, and experiment / Apparatus and reproducibility in alchemy / "Slippery substances" : some practical and conceptual problems in the understanding of gases in the pre-Lavoisier era / Measuring gases and measuring goodness / Evolution of Lavoisier's chemical apparatus / "Fit instruments" : thermometers in eighteenth-century chemistry / Platinum and ground glass : some innovations in chemical apparatus by Guyton de Morveau and others / Multiple combining proportions : the experimental evidence / Organic analysis in comparative perspective : Liebig, Dumas, and Berzelius, 1811-1837 / Chemical techniques in a preelectronic age : the remarkable apparatus of Edward Frankland / Bridging chemistry and physics in the experimental study of gunpowder / Laboratory practice and the physical chemistry of Michael Polanyi
Format :


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Material Type
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QD53 .I57 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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From the days of the alchemists through the creation of the modern laboratory, chemistry has been defined by its instruments and experimental techniques. Historians, however, have tended to focus on the course of chemical theory rather than on the tools and experiments that drove the theory. This volume moves chemical instruments and experiments into the foreground of historical concern, in line with the emphasis on practice that characterizes current work on other fields of science and engineering. The principal themes are: change and stability, precision, the construction and transformation of apparatus, the dissemination of instruments, and the bridging of disciplines through instruments.The essays are divided into three chronological sections: The Practice of Alchemy (reviewing the material and iconographic evidence as well as the written record and the issue of reproducibility of alchemical experiments), From Hales to the Chemical Revolution (discussing significant seventeenth- and eighteenth-century innovations as well as smaller innovations that cumulatively extended the reach and improved the quality of chemical experimentation), and The Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries (discussing the increasingly important role of innovative apparatus as chemistry grew into the first large-scale modern scientific discipline).Contributors : R. G. W. Anderson, Bernadette Bensaude-Vincent, Maurice Crosland, Jan Golinski, Frederic L. Holmes, Trevor H. Levere, Seymour H. Mauskopf, William R. Newman, Mary Jo Nye, Lawrence M. Principe, Alan J. Rocke, Colin A. Russell, William A. Smeaton, Melvyn Usselman.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

This book is an important addition to the literature of chemistry. As the editors say, "the role of instruments and experiments" has received far less attention from historians than the role of chemical theory. The 14 chapters by recognized scholars, two serving as editors, are divided into three chronological groups: three on alchemy, six on the 18th century, and five on the 19th and 20th centuries. The editors' brief general introduction and introductions to the three sections provide excellent perspective and coherence among the necessarily very varied emphases. As they suggest, the book may be most valuable in developing themes and suggesting questions for further research. Each chapter has excellent informative notes, and some have a bibliography. Almost all include generous quotations and illustrations of apparatus from the original sources being discussed. Unfortunately for the reader who is not already familiar with the original literature, there is sometimes too little clear identification of parts of the apparatus and too little specific discussion of how it was operated. (Space might have been saved by cross-references rather than the use of a few illustrations in more than one chapter.) The index, largely of names, is helpful but not outstanding. Undergraduates through professionals. E. R. Webster; emeritus, Wellesley College