Since its introduction into Europe in the Middle Ages, the place of alchemy was problematic, and chief among its obstacles was an association with secrecy and fraud. This talk focuses on the Wittenberg professor of medicine Daniel Sennert (1572-1637) and the messy process in which alchemical secrecy and fraud came to grapple with the new experimentalism as chymistry (i.e., early alchemy and chemistry) became overtly natural-philosophical and was absorbed into the medical faculty of the university. Ultimately, the clash with secretists and fraudsters led Sennert to style himself an incredulous observer of nature devoted to the public good. Klein argues that this confrontation was an important step towards the institutionalization of chemistry, that German universities were central to this process, and that the seeds of eighteenth-century chemical skepticism and rationalism were planted prior to Boyle.
Dr. Joel A. Klein is a postdoctoral research scholar and lecturer in the History Department and the Center for Science and Society at Columbia University where he works on “The Making and Knowing Project”. Klein spent two years researching in Europe via Fulbright, DAAD and NSF grants, and he has held fellowships at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science as well as the Chemical Heritage Foundation. He has published articles in Ambix as well as several collected volumes; he co-edited a special issue of Ambix: “Analysis and Synthesis in Medieval and Early Modern Europe”; and he also worked several years reconstructing and encoding Newton’s alchemy for The Chymistry of Isaac Newton Project.