Material Practice and Ideas of Matter in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-century Chemical Analysis

Eighteenth- and nineteenth-century chemists attempted to better understand the basic blocks of the material world, promising to explain how substances interacted with one another. This was, however, no easy task. Chemical investigations took place in a context of tightening monarchies, imperial expansion, and social unrest, and in turn resulted in
complex, multifaceted knowledge about the material world which was inconsistently utilised and trusted. Chemical analysis was practiced at both industrial and academic sites and sought applications that could serve the public, the economy, and the state.
Meanwhile, chemists’ view of composition continuously evolved. While eighteenth-century analysis could be used to determine the amount of cream in a milk, the ingredients in a mixed remedy, or the amount of impurities in an ore sample, nineteenth-century chemists relied on analytical procedures for the development of chemical formulae and molecular structure.

Chemical analysis is a relatively understudied practice which can nevertheless help to disentangle the relationship of the chemical sciences with the material world. Being inherently practical, it was shaped by both material constraints and changing theoretical
knowledge. Chemical analysis can thus showcase how ideas of matter were translated into material practices, and conversely, how analytical practices shaped the theories of matter throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

This call aims at soliciting new approaches to research on chemical analysis, its evolving practices and applications, and their relation to theory during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Potential topics include, but are not limited to:
– The laboratory space as a place of chemical analysis: its actors, material
conditions, supply of instruments and substances;
– Chemical analysis and its use in critical state industries: the role of chemists in the dye industry, manufacture, mining, etc. and/or the role of those industries in developing analytical methods;
– The applications of analysis to the medical- and life sciences: the role of
apothecaries, surgeons and physicians in the development of chemical analysis; the use of analytical methods for quality control and legal matters;
– Evolving theories of matter and their relation to analytical procedures; evolving ideas of what analysis itself consisted of.

Please send a title and abstract of maximum 250 words to along with a short biographical description (max. 50 words), by 20 November 2023. Submissions from graduate, early career, and contingent scholars are highly encouraged!

This symposium is organized by Sarah Hijmans, Armel Cornu and Charlotte Abney-Salomon. It will be sponsored by the Commission for the History of Chemistry and the Molecular Sciences as well as the Working Party on the History of Chemistry of the European Chemical Society. Some funding will be available to help cover the costs of participating in the conference.

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