History of Chemistry: Who cares?

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Henry Minchin Noad, Chemical Manipulation and Analysis: Qualitative and Quantitative, with an Introduction of the General Principles of Chemical Nomenclature, the Construction and Use of Formulæ, the Doctrine of Equivalent Proportions, and on the Preparation and Management of Gases (London: Baldwin, 1852), 120. Image in the public domain


Seminars in the History of Science, Medicine, and Technology

Dr Catherine M Jackson (University of Oxford)

History of Chemistry: Who cares?

Chemistry around 1900 was queen of the sciences. Yet recent decades have seen professional history of science move away from modern chemistry – and especially the discipline of organic chemistry – as though there were no more to say about it. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. The history of nineteenth-century organic chemistry remains locked in history of ideas, and it does justice neither to the actors nor their accomplishments as a result. Misleading to chemists as practitioners, and especially to young chemists embarking on research careers, existing history and historiography cannot explain the rise of organic chemistry. As chemist, historian, and educator, my mission is to re-write the history of organic chemistry, elucidating what nineteenth-century chemists knew and how they worked in ways that re-engage present-day practitioners, and showcase the power of historical methodology to illuminate technical knowledge.