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Georgiana Hedesan joins the Vossius Center for four months in May 2019 as a Research Fellow with the project "Johann Rudolf Glauber’s Alchemical Laboratory in Mid-Seventeenth Century Amsterdam".

About the project

The subject of early modern alchemical / chemical laboratories is still under-researched, particularly in comparison with early modern experimental laboratories (Shapin and Schaffer 1985, Shapin 1988), painters’ workshops (Bullard 1994, Alpers 1999), or museums (Findlen 1999). Although recent archeological discoveries have partially redressed this situation (Weyer 1992, Soukup & Mayer 1997, Bennett et al 2000, Martinon-Torres 2007) and further research has been carried out in investigating laboratory practices (Newman & Principe 2002, 2004), much remains to be done to understand the scope and meaning of the early modern alchemical laboratory.

This project is a contribution toward this goal, as it aims to illuminate one of the most famous alchemical laboratories of the seventeenth century, that of Johann Rudolf Glauber (1604-1670) in mid-century Amsterdam. Glauber, the son of a German barber, moved to Amsterdam from his native land and established a large laboratory in the city around 1640. He quickly penned a treatise meant to advertise his prowess in alchemical matters; the first part of Novi Furni Philosophici was published in 1646, with four more volumes appearing until 1651. Its success led to many further editions in German, Latin and English.

The purpose of this short-term Junior Fellowship would be to reconstitute the structure and meaning of Glauber’s laboratory. I would be keen to establish how it might have looked like in the context of mid-seventeenth century Amsterdam; how its ‘public’ aspect was related to its ‘private’ sphere; how it advanced Glauber’s unorthodox views; what the relationship between Glauber’s publications and his laboratory was; what role his laboratory played in the seventeenth century’s culture of travel, etc. An important question to investigate is why Glauber decided to base his laboratory in Amsterdam, and, later, came back to build another one. Answering such questions would mean transcending the boundaries of traditional disciplines to capture the many facets of Glauber’s laboratory: from economic experiment to cultural novelty, from place of quiet enquiry to cosmopolitan hub, from physical articulation of a religious-philosophical ideal to a space of innovative scientific endeavour. By examining all these aspects, the project would adopt and reflect the post-disciplinary approach to the development of knowledge championed by the Vossius Center.

About the researcher

Jo (Georgiana) Hedesan is Postdoctoral Associate at the History Faculty, University of Oxford. She was a Wellcome Trust Research Fellow in Medical History and Humanities at the University of Oxford, investigating the topic of universal medicine in seventeenth-century alchemy. This was a three-year project between November 2013 and October 2016, based in the History Faculty. She was also a Junior Research Fellow (JRF) of Wolfson College, Oxford.

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