Jefferson A, Fourth Floor 04 Nov 2018 Contributed Papers Session
Natural Philosophy 09:00 - 11:00

Origin of Forms and Qualities: Robert Boyle's Reply to William Harvey
09:00 - 09:30
Presented by :

This paper looks at famed chemist (or chymist) Robert Boyle’s Origin of Forms and Qualities and considers an un-named target of Boyle: William Harvey. Boyle published Origin of Forms and Qualities in 1666 as an attempt to eliminate reliance on Aristotelian forms, promoting instead his own corpuscular philosophy. In The Historical Part” of Origin of Forms and Qualities, Boyle provides examples and experiments historically understood as involving substantial change, which he attempts to describe in terms of quality-less, uniform corpuscles.

His very first example involves the hatching of an egg, or the development of a chick from diaphanous fluid. This paper argues that Boyle’s use of this example —from his introduction of it, to his description of how the egg develops, to his concluding remarks regarding the explanatory power of Harvey’s “plastick principle”— is a direct response to. Harvey had communicated his own views on the generation of chick eggs some fifteen years prior in Exercitationes de Generatione Animalium.

A detailed analysis of his reply to Harvey can allow us to understand not only Boyle’s own account of animal generation but his methodical commitments more generally. Harvey holds that proper explanation lies in an account of the four Aristotelian causes, and his description of the plastic principle within the chick-egg is closely tied to his account of those causes. Boyle, however, rejects this approach and places the explanatory focus upon the material effects and modes of operations.   

Chymical Collections: Seventeenth-century Textual Transmutations in the Work of Arthur Dee
09:30 - 10:00

In seventeenth-century Europe the practice of curating specific alchemical texts in order to create a comprehensive body of work increased rapidly owing to the technology of the printing press and the belief that these types of tract were most successful when used in tandem. Evidence of readership practices, scribal and print culture, and prefatory publication material all point to the active speculation of alchemical texts in a new and intentional manner during this century. The most widely collected and well known of this genre, Theatrum Chemicum, was printed in three editions from the years 1602 to 1661.

This talk will examine material evidence of the speculative nature of this phenomenon. Chymical collections show fascinating examples of readers working through hermetically disguised alchemical concepts by drawing, annotating, cross referencing, and otherwise altering the pages of the texts. However, readers were not the only editors of these tracts. Authors, printers, and publishers also had agency in the way their alchemical collections were used. In the case of these texts, what is lacking was sometimes as intentional as what was printed.  

More broadly, chymical collections reflect cultural and intellectual issues brought on by the advent of print in the seventeenth century. The anxiety surrounding vernacularization, or vulgarization, of alchemical texts is illustrated by the relationship between English translator Elias Ashmole and the author of the Latin Fasciculus Chemicus, Arthur Dee. Ashmole directly addresses the controversy of making hermetically guarded secrets accessible in Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum, an English response to the continental Theatrum Chemicum.

Making Room for the Natural Sciences in Seventeenth Century Morocco
10:00 - 10:30

In Morocco during the seventeenth century a significant minority of Muslim scholars studied and wrote works on the natural sciences. How do we go about telling their stories? This paper lays out the historiographical challenges of narrating the history of the natural sciences in the Muslim world during a period widely considered to have been one of intellectual decline, and then turns to a preliminary evaluation of the medical, astronomical, and alchemical works written in Morocco during this period.

            The historiographical challenges are many and are related to much of the research on the natural sciences in the Muslim world having been preoccupied with two topics, 1) the translation and appropriation of Greek and Indian sciences by Muslims and those living under their rule in the eighth-tenth centuries, and 2) the influence of Muslim writings on European Christian scholarship between the twelfth and sixteenth centuries.  What Muslim scholars wrote following the beginning of what is still often glossed as the Scientific Revolution(s) of the sixteenth-eighteenth centuries has been neglected. Within the field of Islamic studies, recent work on the intellectual history of the early modern period allows us to contextualize scholarship on the natural sciences during this period.

            Using the writings on timekeeping of al-Rudani (d. 1094/1683), on material medica of al-Dara‘i (d. 1148/1734), and on alchemy of al-Marghiti ( 1089/1678), this paper will conclude by situating their work within the educational landscape of Morocco, one that was shaped largely by rural Sufi lodges.


Surgeons and Disease in Sixteenth-Century Spain: Peste and Morbo Gallico in Surgical Texts
10:30 - 11:00

     In the late sixteenth century, a number of university-educated surgeons in Spain began producing vernacular surgical manuals designed to provide the most recent knowledge in surgical treatments to practicing surgeons who could not read Latin. These texts are notable in their number and diversity of authors as well as for the fact that many include discussions of diagnosis and treatment of diseases including peste (plague) and morbo gallico (syphilis). These two diseases are, in a way, hallmarks of the premodern era; plague arose in epidemic form in the fourteenth century and morbo gallico in the late fifteenth century. As “new” diseases that often appeared changeable in nature, both gave rise to continued debates over their causes, the means by which they spread, and best methods of treatment. As diseases that produced external and visible symptoms of rashes, sores or buboes, they increasingly fell under the care of surgeons. This paper analyzes the way these diseases were understood and treated by surgeons in late sixteenth-century Spain. While many studies have examined the initial responses of medical personnel to these diseases in their earliest centuries, there has been less attention paid to later evolving ideas of causation, spread and treatment. These vernacular texts are significant in providing a window onto how experience and empiricism shifted perceptions of each disease, and how learned practitioners sought to codify and pass on this knowledge to their present and future colleagues. 



Consortium for the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine
New York University Abu Dhabi
University of Missouri
Georgia State University


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