Society for the History of Alchemy and Chemistry (SHAC) Online Seminar

Thursday 23 September 2021

‘The Discrete Charm of Platinum’ 

Dr Mariana Sanchez-Daza (Université Paris Diderot) and Dr John Christie (University of Oxford)

This talk will analyze temporal aspects of the material platinum, beginning briefly with the astrophysical processes which originate it and the astronomical and geophysical processes which have embedded it in planet Earth, then proceeding to the historical temporalities within which platinum became a subject of human cognizance, enquiry and use 
After a résumé of archaeological evidence indicative of early human uses of platinum, our emphasis will be upon the history of scientific discovery, experimental enquiry and manufacturing development, and the economic and political histories of empire with which platinum became, and remains, deeply entangled. Although platinum received increasing experimental attention from chemists in the eighteenth century, it remained for the most part a refractory material, resistant to reactivity and to fusion, and only in the early decades of the nineteenth century was it rendered amenable to processes usable for large scale production. Platinum’s imperial entanglements began to take form in the middle decades of the eighteenth century, focused first upon the Hispanic empire, then later, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, upon the British, leaving a post-imperial aftermath still active today. 

This will be live on Zoom on Thursday 23 September 2021 beginning at 5.00pm BST (6.00pm CEST, 12 noon EST, 9.00am PST). The format will be a talk of 20-30 minutes, followed by a moderated discussion of half an hour. Anyone, member of SHAC or not, may register to attend the seminar by e-mailing; a Zoom link to the seminar will be sent the day before. (If having registered you do not receive a link please check your junk folder). Alternatively, the seminar can also be accessed live on the SHAC You Tube channel.

The Material Turn and the History of Chemistry

A talk by Simon Werrett for the Society for the History of Alchemy and Chemistry on 23 March 2021, which discusses Materials and Time among other projects.

Recent years have witnessed a “material turn” in the history of science interested in placing instruments, objects, materials and practice at the centre of historical accounts. In many ways the history of chemistry has always been a “material history”, yet the field has not always had the prominent place it deserves in the material turn. In this paper I reflect on several projects I have been involved with where history of chemistry and material histories come together. My work on “Compound Histories” (with Lissa Roberts) and “Thrifty Science” considered how a close engagement with object histories helps reveal broader approaches to materials at different times that shape chemical practices and social order. An ongoing project on “Materials and Time” (with Bernadette Bensaud-Vincent, Marie Thébaud-Sorger and others) examines a surprisingly varied array of temporalities in chemical substances, and raises the issue of collaborations between historians and chemists. Meanwhile discussions in Ambix and the Forum for the History of Chemical Sciences (FoHCS) are exploring the idea of a “Chemical Humanities” that would draw on diverse disciplines to make sense of the social and material world in novel ways. These projects argue for a more integrated appreciation of materials and chemistry, and offer exciting prospects for future research combining both fields.

You can watch the lecture here.

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