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Chemistry : History


History of Science Collections

THE HISTORY OF SCIENCE COLLECTION is the library's special collection of rare books on science, engineering, and technology. It includes printed books from the fifteenth century to the present. Some examples of materials held are listed below.

Some Notes on the History of Chemistry

The emergence of the modern science of chemistry was preceded by the accumulation, over many centuries, of a vast amount of practical chemical knowledge gathered from such practices as metallurgical work, cooking, and the manufacturing of glass and other products. Chemical knowledge was also drawn from a copious alchemical literature. Alchemy represented conceptions gained through centuries-old philosophical speculations on the nature of matter, combined with mystical doctrines and sophisticated experimental practices that were carried out by means of specially designed instruments.

The rise of the modern scientific discipline of chemistry is usually placed in the “Chemical Revolution” of the late eighteenth century. The central episode in the development of this new organization of chemical knowledge was a novel understanding of chemical composition gained through the disclosure of the reactions involved in the phenomenon of combustion. Through the deployment of a remarkable quantitative experimental methodology Lavoisier (the “father of modern chemistry”) refuted the then standard explanation of combustion in terms of the removal of a hypothetical substance called “phlogiston” and explained it instead as the result of the addition of oxygen.

Lavoisier’s work and thought lay the foundations for most of the subsequent progress in chemical research, including such nineteenth century achievements as the consolidation of the atomic theory of matter, the charting of the periodic table of the elements and the synthesis of complex organic molecules.

Linda Hall Library has unparalleled resources for research in the history of chemistry. It stores most of the important primary sources in journals and monographs, in the relevant languages, since the seventeenth century. The library’s holdings include abundant secondary literature, both in books and in journals specialized in the history of chemistry (Ambix, Chemical heritage, Bulletin for the history of chemistry and others), as well as in journals for general history of science.

Notes provided by Eliseo Fernandez, Bibliographer.

Resident Fellowships

Resident fellowships for the duration of a minimum of 1 month to a maximum of 9 months are offered in support of research projects in science, engineering, and technology; in the history of science, engineering and technology; or in interdisciplinary topics that link science or technology to the broader culture.