By Shannon Dea, University of Waterloo and Ted McCormick, Concordia University (republished from ; original here) According to tech entrepreneur Patrick Collison and economist Tyler Cowen, academia needs a new discipline called “progress studies.” But their proposal overlooks two crucial facts: human progress has been an object of study for centuries, and innovators ignorant of that scholarship … Continue reading Can ‘Progress Studies’ Contribute to Knowledge? History Suggests Caution
Once we stop thinking of the past as a failed but noble attempt at the present, many of its inexplicable, repulsive, or ridiculous aspects take on a new colour. A good example is alchemical transmutation, an evident impossibility that nevertheless occupied -- and not just occupied, but motivated -- the likes of Newton or Boyle, … Continue reading Perpetual Motion: Technology, Slavery, and History
In the wake of the Royal Society (London, 1660) and the Académie Royale (Paris, 1666), a slew of scientific societies formed in the later seventeenth-century European world, nodes in an expanding network of institutions devoted to experimental science, natural history, and kindred sorts of philosophical activity. A short-lived member of this scientific community was the … Continue reading Happiness as a Colonial Science: new publication
Historians, historically, are lone wolves. In contrast to most STEM and social-science research, the typical product of a historian's efforts is a single-authored article or (better) scholarly monograph, most likely supported by individual grants and researched and written alone during individual sabbatical or research leave. As far as funding goes this has begun to change, perhaps especially … Continue reading Why Team-Teach History?
Self-promotion alert! (But if I don't tell you, who will?) I'm happy to say that a piece I wrote on two seventeenth-century scientific projectors, Gabriel Plattes (c.1600-44) and William Petty (1623-87), has at long last come out as a chapter in the large volume shown at left. My contribution looks at how Plattes and Petty … Continue reading New publication: Alchemical transmutation and economic value in the seventeenth century
I am not ignorant that many have written against the science I profess, But such is my candid equanimity, that I think they inveighed against the abuse rather then the true use, of so ancient, so rare, so often verified a learning, which for its practical part may challenge any. So wrote Dr. Thomas Clayton (1575-1647), … Continue reading Seven on your side: Loss, mobility, and practical astrology in seventeenth-century London
"But if you look at the history, modern chemistry only starts coming in to replace alchemy around the same time capitalism really gets going. Strange, eh? What do you make of that?" Webb nodded agreeably. "Maybe capitalism decided it didn't need the old magic anymore." An emphasis whose contempt was not meant to escape Merle's … Continue reading The Ambivalent Alchemist’s Guide to History: Or, Why Gabriel Plattes Matters
[Update: My post scratches the surface, but there's a much more thorough and detailed exploration of Bragadini's earlier career here, for anyone interested.] Like magic, astrology, and other endeavours now found in the "occult" section (it's in the back, just follow the patchouli scent), alchemy can be hard for non-occultists to take seriously. On the other hand, early modern alchemy has … Continue reading The Great Alchemist Bragadini