Cover image for Affinity, that elusive dream : a genealogy of the chemical revolution
Affinity, that elusive dream : a genealogy of the chemical revolution
Kim, Mi Gyung.
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Publication Information:
Cambridge, Mass. : MIT Press, 2003.
Physical Description:
xii, 599 pages ; 24 cm.
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Central Library QD505.5 .K47 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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In the eighteenth century, chemistry was transformed from an art to a public science. Chemical affinity played an important role in this process as a metaphor, a theory domain, and a subject of investigation. Goethe's Elective Affinities, which was based on the current understanding of chemical affinities, attests to chemistry's presence in the public imagination. In Affinity, That Elusive Dream, Mi Gyung Kim restores chemical affinity to its proper place in historiography and in Enlightenment public culture. The Chemical Revolution is usually associated with Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier, who introduced a modern nomenclature and a definitive text. Kim argues that chemical affinity was erased from historical memory by Lavoisier's omission of it from his textbook. She examines the work of many less famous French chemists (including physicians, apothecaries, metallurgists, philosophical chemists, and industrial chemists) to explore the institutional context of chemical instruction and research, the social stratification that shaped theoretical discourse, and the crucial shifts in analytic methods. Apothecaries and metallurgists, she shows, shaped the main theory domains through their innovative approach to analysis. Academicians and philosophical chemists brought about two transformative theoretical moments through their efforts to create a rational discourse of chemistry in tune with the reigning natural philosophy. The topics discussed include the corpuscular (Cartesian) model in French chemistry in the early 1700s, the stabilization of the theory domains of composition and affinity, the reconstruction of French theoretical discourse in the middle of the eighteenth century, the Newtonian languages that plagued the domain of affinity just before the Chemical Revolution, Guyton de Morveau's program of affinity chemistry, Lavoisier's reconstruction of the theory domains of chemistry, and Berthollet's path as an affinity chemist.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Kim (history, North Carolina State Univ.) states that "this book is no more than an interpretive essay designed to open up new venues of historical investigation." Although her introduction provides synopses of the eight "chronologically defined" chapters, the book is complex and sometimes exasperating because it lacks specificity. For example, she refers to the French Paracelsians' "ideal of five principles" without identifying them. The index cites many pages under "Principle," but none clarifies the five "ideal" ones referred to earlier. With chemical affinity as the core of the book one expects explication of the symbols in the affinity tables shown. Although Geoffroy's Table (page 137) includes its own identification of symbols, those in Bergman's table (pages 260-63) are not explained despite Kim's assertion that this was "the finest achievement in the tradition ... [which] also accelerated its ultimate demise." Figure 5.6 shows eight symbols with no explanation and no reference in the text. Kim urges historians to reexamine the broader context of 18th-century chemical revolutions rather than "the Chemical Revolution as a singular event flowing from Lavoisier's accomplishments." She raises important and interesting issues and has provided extensive documentation. Appendix; detailed notes; valuable bibliography; disappointingly brief index. ^BSumming Up: Recommended. Graduate students; faculty. E. R. Webster emerita, Wellesley College

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. ix
Introductionp. 1
1 The Space of Chemical Theoryp. 17
2 A Theoretical Momentp. 65
3 Affinityp. 111
4 Chemistry in the Public Spherep. 161
5 A Newtonian Dream in the Provincep. 219
6 An Instrumental Turnp. 279
7 A Community of Opinionsp. 335
8 The Next Frontierp. 391
Epilogue: A Tale of Three Fathersp. 439
Appendixp. 457
Notesp. 463
Bibliographyp. 541
Indexp. 595

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