History and Philosophy Of Science | Medieval & Early Modern Alchemy
X602 | 27885 | William Newman


Until quite recently, alchemy has been a little traveled area in the
history of science.  Traditionally, the field was ignored or even
dismissed by most historians of science as a backwater of
superstition and sloppy thinking. Recent work in material culture
and intellectual history has turned these old stereotypes on their
head. It now appears that alchemy was at the forefront of
experimental science in the Middle Ages and the Early Modern period,
and that the discipline had long incorporated such features
as “maker’s knowledge” and the seeming erasure of the art-nature
distinction that are traditionally associated with the seventeenth-
century scientific reforms of Francis Bacon.  This course will take
advantage of the most recent historiography and will focus on
English alchemists from Roger Bacon to Isaac Newton.  Particular
care will be given to the Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum of
Elias Ashmole in the attempt to determine what features, if any,
might characterize a peculiarly English tradition in alchemy.  The
course will also address the mutation of alchemy over the five
centuries from Roger Bacon to Newton, and it will address the issue
of alchemy’s relation to the other  “occult sciences” such as
astrology and natural magic.  There are no language prerequisites.