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Bull. Hist. Chem., VOLUME 36, Number 2 (2011)


This paper was the response to a challenge set me as the

senior historian of chemistry (in age) serving on the ACS

National Historic Chemical Landmarks Committee. The

challenge was to reflect on the history of chemistry in

terms of the question posed in the paper’s title. Although

there is a “tongue in cheek” quality to the question, it also

has its serious side and it challenged me. I have to say

that, until two weeks before my talk, I had no idea how

I would respond. Then I had my epiphany and the result

is the following historiographical reflection.

Let me state at the outset that I am primarily an

historian rather than a chemist. Although I was only

one credit shy of completing an undergraduate major in

chemistry at Cornell, in fact, I was graduated with an of-

ficial major in history and received “highest honors” for

a senior thesis on twelfth- and thirteenth-century canon

law! But I did encounter Henry Guerlac in two courses

and subsequently did my graduate study in the history of

science at Princeton (1960-1964) under Charles Coulston

Gillispie, with a field in the history of chemistry and a

dissertation that combined history of late eighteenth-

century–early nineteenth-century chemistry with related

areas in the history of physics. In my graduate studies in

the history of chemistry, I did my first reflective survey

of the field as it had developed down to about 1960. I

had not done a sequel until this challenge was posed.

In retrospect, I see that the principal obstacle I faced

was definitional. I think I know how to define a “chemist-

historian” (i.e., a chemist who researches and writes

the history of chemistry) but I was less sure regarding

an “historian of chemistry.” Because of the technical

nature of the field, virtually all of us who do history of

chemistry have some background in chemistry, as my

own example illustrates. Some have considerably more



Seymour H. Mauskopf, Duke University,

than I have. Alan Rocke, for example, did graduate work

in chemistry. Arnold Thackray worked as a chemical en-

gineer. Lawrence Principe has a joint appointment in the

history of science and in chemistry and teaches chemistry.

Does this make them chemists doing history of science

or historians of science doing history of chemistry?

My epiphany was the realization of the following

definition: an “historian of chemistry” is an “historian of

science” doing the history of chemistry. By “historian of

science,” I mean someone who has (a) received training

in the history of science and (b) holds some full-time po-

sition related to the history of science—be it an academic

position or one in some institution promoting history of

science (e.g., a museum).

This immediately provides a structure to my histo-

riographical reflection. Until the mid-twentieth century,

virtually all the people writing history of chemistry were

chemists (one gigantic exception—Hélène Metzger), for

the simple reason that there were virtually no trained his-

torians of science (more on this and on Metzger below).

By, say, 1960, history of science programs were emerging

and training historians of chemistry, among other fields.

These scholars (the Thackrays, Rockes, Principes—and

Mauskopfs) became the norm although some chemists

continued to display an active and abiding interest in the

history of chemistry as witnessed by the Dexter-Edelstein

Award tradition, activities of the ACS Division of the

History of Chemistry (HIST), and the National Historic

Chemical Landmarks Committee.

I shall discuss the work of a somewhat idiosyncratic

group of chemist-historians—idiosyncratic in being of

personal interest. Then I shall turn to the development

of the history of science as a disciplinary field in mid-

twentieth century and offer some conclusions.


Bull. Hist. Chem., VOLUME 36, Number 2  (2011)

Chemists and the History of Chemistry

The nineteenth century was already replete with historical

activities of chemists. When I was in graduate school in

the early 1960s, the most comprehensive standard his-

torical reference work for chemistry was still Hermann

Kopp’s Geschichte der Chemie (2). I can still remember

waiting with bated breadth for the first published vol-

ume of J. R. Partington’s A History of Chemistry (3) to

see whether it would really supplant Kopp. (It did, but

primarily as an immense reference work in my view.)

Kopp’s history of chemistry is merely the most promi-

nent of historical productions by chemists including such

notable productions as Thomas Thomson’s The History 

of Chemistry (4), Albert Ladenburg’s Vorträge über 

die Entwicklungsgeschichte der Chemie in den letzten 

hundert Jahren (5), Jean Baptiste Dumas’ edition of the

works of Lavoisier (first four volumes, followed by the

remaining two edited by Eduard Grimaux) (6), and the

works of Marcellin Berthelot on medieval chemistry and

alchemy (7) to name a few. Since I mention Berthelot, I

ought for the sake of equity mention his opponent, Pierre

Duhem’s Le mixte et la combinaison chimique: Essai sur 

l’évolution d’une idée (8), a work which I consulted with

great profit a few years ago while writing on the historical

background to Proust’s law of definite proportions.

In connection with my work on Proust, I would

also like to mention an historical study by a chemist

that I came upon as a graduate student and found both

quite amazing and inspirational. I refer to Ida Freund’s

The Study of Chemical Composition: An Account of Its 

Method and Historical Development (9). Freund (1863-

1914) had an extremely interesting life and career—in

some respects comparable as pioneer woman scientist

to her more famous contemporary, Marie Curie. Born in

Austria, Freund was both orphaned and seriously injured

at a young age (losing a leg in a bicycle accident). Ini-

tially educated in Vienna, she was taken to England by

an uncle (a member of the Joachim string quartet) where

she was able to enter Girton College, Cambridge, in 1882

and take the natural sciences tripos, obtaining a first

class degree with a specialty in chemistry. She spent the

rest of her life teaching chemistry and doing research at

Newnham College. The basis for The Study of Chemical 

Composition was a third year lecture course that Freund

devised for her women students reading chemistry (10).

There were active historically-minded chemists in

the United States at about the time Duhem and Freund

were publishing their pioneering historical studies on

chemical  composition.  One  famous  one  was  Edgar

Fahs Smith, chemist, historian, and, best known today

for the magnificent historical collection in chemistry at

the Universty of Pennsylvania. Probably less known

is his Tarheel contemporary, Francis Preston Venable

(1856-1934). Son of a professor of mathematics at the

University of Virgina (and aide-de-camp to Robert E. Lee

in the Civil War), Venable was trained in chemistry at

the University of Virginia and he was offered the chair in

chemistry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel

Hill in 1880. Going overseas for advanced training, he

earned a doctorate at the University of Göttingen and

then returned to UNC to carry out important chemical

research. Most notable was his identification of calcium

carbide. In 1893 he received the Mary Ann Smith Pro-

fessorship, the first endowed chair at UNC. In 1899 he

served as Vice President of the Chemistry section of the

AAAS and in 1905 President of the ACS. From 1900 to

1914, he was President of UNC (11).

Despite a busy schedule—to put it mildly—Venable

had time both to collect historically important works in

chemistry (which now constitute the core of the Venable

Collection at UNC) and to carry out writings in the

history of chemistry. He published two major historical

studies (or three, depending on how you count): A Short 

History of Chemistry (1894 and subsequent editions),

The Development of the Periodic Law (1896), and an

expanded version of the Short History under the title

History of Chemistry (1922). (12)

The prefaces to these books are interesting in giv-

ing some clue as to why a Tarheel chemist would be so

astonishingly pioneering in historical studies. That of

his Short History of Chemistry gives a context or origin

similar to that of Freund’s book and even prefigures the

motivation behind the Harvard Case Histories in Experi-

mental Science of more than fifty years in the future. I

quote from Venable’s preface:

This History has been written because of a convic-

tion, from my own experience and experience with

students, that one of the best aids to an intelligent

comprehension of the science of chemistry is the

study  of  the  long  struggle,  the  failures,  and  the

triumphs of the men who have made this science

for us. The work is based upon a course of lectures

delivered for several years past to my classes in the

University of North Carolina. The effort has been

made to systematize and digest the material on hand

so as to render it available for those desiring a general

knowledge of the subject. (13)

Venable was very familiar with the literature in the his-

tory of chemistry that had built up in the course of the

nineteenth century.

Bull. Hist. Chem., VOLUME 36, Number 2 (2011)


I would like to know a lot more than I do about

the details of the success of this book—who bought it

and how it was used—for Short History went through

a number of editions. Venable wrote in the preface of

the sequel of 1922 that, although the Short History “had

passed through a number of editions, there has been no

attempt to bring it up to date nor to revise it in any way:”

It has now been entirely rewritten on a changed plan

of arrangement and made to cover the great progress

in the science which has taken place since it first

appeared. (14)

The Prefatory Sketch to The Development of the 

Periodic Law is also interesting in that Venable provided

a philosophical rather than pedagogical motive for writ-

ing the book:

The reproach that chemistry is not, in the fullest

sense, a science will continue just so long as chemists

content themselves with taking together the straws

of facts, gleaners many of them in a harvested field,

and neglect the ‘weightier matters of the law.’ The

gathering of facts is good, gleaning is good, but con-

tentment with such gains means stagnation. The task

has been undertaken in the hope of arousing interest

in this matter and of aiding in the further development

of the still incomplete system. (15)

The result was Venable’s most ambitious historical mono-

graph, running to almost three hundred pages of text.

It is clear to me that Francis Venable was a chemist-

historian who merits more study.

Activity of chemist-historians did not slacken in the first

half of the twentieth century. One of the most useful re-

sults of such activity, in my opinion, is Tenny L. Davis’

The Chemistry of Powder and Explosives (1943), with

its wealth of historical material (16). This, too, I believe,

was the fruit of a course on the subject that Davis taught

at MIT. These decades also witnessed the first historical

publications of J. R. Partington and the complete oeuvre

of Hélène Metzger (1889-1944), who died tragically

in a Nazi concentration camp (17). Metzger, trained

as a crystallographer but unable to obtain an academic

position and able to support herself privately, treated

history of chemistry as a species of intellectual history

very much as part of the milieu of French historical and

philosophical studies being carried out by her contempo-

raries such as Gaston Bachelard, Émile Meyerson, and

Alexandre Koyré.

What they did—particularly Metzger and Koyré—

was to historicize their subject matter. Rather than the

orientation of Venable on “the long struggle, the failures,

and the triumphs of the men who have made this science

for us,” Metzger attempted to get in the mindsets of her

seventeenth- and eighteenth-century protagonists with

as little reference as possible as to whether they were

ultimately “right.” It is significant that, early on in The 

Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn cites

Metzger (along with Meyerson and Koyré), as having

shown him “what it was like to think scientifically in a

period when the canons of scientific thought were very

different from those current today (18).”

Emergence of History of Science as an 

Academic Discipline

All of the above belongs to the “archaic” period of the

history of science as an academic discipline. During the

first half of the twentieth century, the history of science

began to emerge as an academic discipline but only

slowly. There were few journals in the field before the

1940s (Isis, 1913; Annals of Science, 1936; Archives 

internationals d’histoire des sciences, 1947) and few

academic positions. George Sarton, for example, who

was the progenitor of the field in the U.S., never had a

regular position at Harvard although he spent his entire

American career there. Rather, he was a Research Associ-

ate in the Harvard Department of History, his financial

support coming from the Carnegie Institution (19). The

first American to receive a Ph.D. in the history of science

was I. B. Cohen, who received his degree at Harvard

in 1947 in the Program in the History of Science and

Learning instituted by James Bryant Conant in 1936 (20).

Mention of Conant suggests that chemists—and the

history of chemistry—were important in the genesis of

the history of science as an academic discipline. The next

history of science program to be officially instituted was

at the University of Wisconsin in 1941 and the young

scholar, Henry Guerlac, was invited to form it up (21).

Guerlac had majored in chemistry at Cornell and done

graduate work there and at Harvard in chemistry before

switching to earn a Ph.D. in European history. Although

not technically an alumnus of the Harvard history of

science program, he had done coursework with George

Sarton and a dissertation on science and the military

school at Mézieres in the ancien régime.

Guerlac started up the department and then left in

1943. He did not return after the war but, instead, was

hired by his alma mater, Cornell, to begin history of sci-

ence there. By the late 1950s, Cornell had a flourishing

program and by the 1960s, his graduate students were

pursuing research on the subject on which he had come


Bull. Hist. Chem., VOLUME 36, Number 2  (2011)

to focus in his own research: Lavoisier and the Chemi-

cal Revolution.

At Wisconsin, the history of science program was

resumed after the war. At the same time, a young chemist,

Aaron Ihde, returned to his alma mater, Wisconsin, to ac-

cept a tenure-track position in the chemistry department.

In 1946, Ihde was able to manifest his interest in the his-

tory of chemistry by instituting (or better resurrecting)

an undergraduate course. By the end of the 1940s, Ihde

was playing a central role in developing an undergradu-

ate liberal arts education at Wisconsin and emphasizing

the history of science.

Ihde strengthened his connection with the history

of science (and history of chemistry) by spending the

year 1951-52 at Harvard teaching in a course Conant had

instituted on “case histories in experimental science” co-

taught with the chemist, Leonard K. Nash, and Thomas

Kuhn. Although he apparently was not formally added

the faculty of the history of science program until 1957,

he in fact was the mentor for the first Ph.D. completed

in that program; Robert Siegfried received his degree

with a dissertation, appropriately enough in the history of

chemistry, in 1953. Of course, it has also to be mentioned

that Wisconsin was concurrently developing the leading

program in the nation in the history of pharmacy.

So the 1950s can with a good deal of justice be

considered the first decade when history of science

emerged as an academic discipline. It was also, of course,

the decade when the Dexter Awards began. I doubt that

anyone then was conscious of a connection but we can

certainly make one now: the development of the aca-

demic discipline of the history of science was heavily

influenced by, indebted to, and focused on the history of

chemistry. The tradition of chemist-historians continued

and would be joined by the first group of historians of

science with a focus in the history of chemistry. By the

early 1960s, Cornell, under the tutelage of Henry Guerlac,

and the University of Wisconsin, under the leadership of

Aaron Ihde, emerged as centers for training “historians

of chemistry.” By the early 1970s, these universities had

been joined by the University of Pennsylvania’s Depart-

ment of the History and Sociology of Science founded

by Arnold Thackray. I should mention that a parallel

development was taking place in England, particularly

at University College London, where Douglas McKie

joined the nascent Department in the History and Method

of Science in 1925, remaining one of only two permanent

department members until 1946. McKie’s biography of

Lavoisier appeared in 1935 and monographs of some of

his students on topics in eighteenth-century chemistry

also were published already in the 1930s (22).

1950s and 1960s: “Heroic Age” of the  

History of Chemistry.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the influence of professional

history of science began to become evident in the his-

tory of chemistry. I shall discuss a number of seminal

publications of these decades.

The Historical Background of Chemistry by the biochem-

ist, Henry M. Leicester (1956) (23). In my terminology,

Leicester was a chemist-historian.

Looking over this book now, in relationship to

Venable’s venerable History of Chemistry, there are

interesting parallels and differences. The major parallel

is the topic and period covered, which are roughly the

same despite the over fifty years that separated the two

histories. Both works, moreover, give much more at-

tention to the development of inorganic chemistry than

organic, even in the nineteenth century.

But there are significant differences, which come

out in Leicester’s preface. Firstly, although a chemist-

historian, Leicester recognized the professional changes

then taking place, Leicester naturally employed the term,

“historians of science.” Moreover, his story was no longer

primarily one of “failures” and “triumphs” of individual

men, as it was for Venable but rather:

It is clear that the full story of such developments

involves not only the personalities and intellects

of the scientists themselves, but also the social and

economic conditions which surrounded them and

the philosophical ideas to which they are exposed.

He  noted  that  such  a  comprehensive  history  would

involve a massive project but also, “As yet, such a vol-

ume is lacking in the history of chemistry.” Leicester

did not propose to carry out the project in this work but

rather “the development and interrelation of chemical

concepts.” (24)

A good marker of their differences in historical

perspectives is found in their treatment of the phlogiston

theory. Venable rather irritably dismisses it (25): “Since

the theory was false, it obscured or twisted facts and

necessarily retarded progress.” Leicester, by contrast,

gives a much more nuanced and positive account (26):

“In this field [combustion], the phlogiston theory sup-

plied an excellent explanation for the known facts.” (27)

Bull. Hist. Chem., VOLUME 36, Number 2 (2011)


Harvard Case Histories in Experimental Science, James

Bryant Conant, General Editor, Leonard K. Nash, Associ-

ate Editor (1957) (28). Conant and Nash were chemist-


This two volume set the fruit of the course that

Conant had instituted and with which Ihde had been as-

sociated in the early 1950s. In aim, the publication is not

unlike Venable’s: to enlighten the science student and the

general public about the nature of science.

But this work deeply reflected the new perspectives

of the history of science in much the ways that Leicester’s

book had. A general conceptual structure was established

at the outset, which, while holding to an empiricist and

progressivist view of scientific change, nevertheless

took full cognizance of the complexities involved in

the origins and ascendancy of new scientific concepts.

Moreover, each case study was heavily interlarded with

quotations and sometimes long excerpts from original

sources to give the reader a real historical flavor of the


Not surprisingly given the two editors, four of the

eight case studies can be said to fall in the domain of

the history of chemistry (29). At least two (“Overthrow

of the Phlogiston Theory” and “The Atomic-Molecular

Theory”) still regularly show up in history of science

course syllabi, and the “Overthrow of the Phlogiston

Theory”  became  the  basis  for  the  treatment  of  the

Chemical Revolution in Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure 

of Scientific Revolutions.

Lavoisier—the Crucial Year: The Background and Origin 

of his First Experiments on Combustion (1961) by Henry

Guerlac (30), historian of chemistry

Although  there  were  other  important  Lavoisier

scholars before Guerlac and contemporaneous with him

(McKie, Maurice Daumas), this book was a defining one

in the development of the history of science generally

because it represented the archival-based, detailed studies

of science that came to dominate the history of science in

the 1960s. Moreover, it was an interrogation of “origins;”

scientific “advance” could no longer be assumed to be

natural or inevitable but, like all historical events, had to

be thoroughly explained. Guerlac, through his students,

dominated the history of chemistry in the 1960s and

1970s, with the focus being on Lavoisier and his work.

The Development of Modern Chemistry (1964) by Aaron

Ihde (31), chemist-historian (?) historian of chemistry 


It is difficult to know how to categorize Aaron

Ihde—as a chemist-historian or as primarily an historian

of chemistry. In his preface, he articulates something like

Leicester’s vision of what the history of chemistry should

be, emphasizing especially its relationship to industry:

I have sought to give proper attention to the part

played by individuals without making the account a

series of biographical sketches. At the same time I

have attempted to place chemistry in the framework

of the times. It has influenced human life in major

ways, particularly in the nature of industrial and

agricultural activity. At the same time, the growth of

chemistry has been influenced by human affairs—

political, economic, and social. These interactions I

have sought to reveal. (32)

Moreover, in contrast to Leicester, Ihde carried his

historical narrative down well into the twentieth century.

In the twentieth-century sections, Ihde covered not only

the substance of chemistry but industrial and agricultural

chemistry as well. Moreover, indicative of what soon

would be rising environmental concerns, Ihde concluded

his massive history with a section titled “Nonprofessional

Problems Created by Chemistry.” Here, he discussed

various kinds of environmental problems and hazards

created by chemical activities: nuclear waste, industrial

waste and hazards, environmental chemical hazards. He

began this section with eloquent and prophetic words:

These problems demand the best wisdom of the

world’s leaders, and they will be resolved only very

gradually, even where there is good will and a sincere

desire for their solution. Chemists can help in their

solution but will need the collaboration of the best

minds in many other fields. Perhaps chemists can be

of greatest service if they will become more conscious

of the results of their activities and use their influ-

ence to delay the introduction of new products and

new processes until they can be sure the advantages

outweigh the disadvantages. (33)

The Development of Modern Chemistry was, in an

important way, Janus-faced. Along with Partington’s

multi-volume set, it was the last and most ambitious of

the synoptic narratives of history of chemistry. Yet it did

represent the beginnings of a different kind of history of

chemistry. Although its core was the history of chemi-

cal theories, there were now considerations of chemical

education, industrial chemistry, and environmental and

ecological problems.


Bull. Hist. Chem., VOLUME 36, Number 2  (2011)


Although only one of these five authors was clearly an

historian of chemistry, all the others played important

roles in the development of the history of science. Given

the comprehensive influence of the history of science on

all of them, and the obvious blurring of my categories

for most of them, I might now want to declare the ques-

tion, “Do historians or chemists write better history of

chemistry?” to be irrelevant and non-informative.

What I can say as an historian—and an historian of

science—is that Guerlac’s Lavoisier—the Crucial Year

became paradigmatic of the nature and style that mono-

graphs in the history of science were to assume, and this

included those in the history of chemistry.

By contrast, Leicester’s and Ihde’s histories rep-

resent the last and possibly the greatest exemplars of

a  genre  of  historical  writing  practiced  by  chemist-

historians: the general narrative of the history of this

scientific discipline (34).

The decades when these works were published (and

perhaps the 1970s as well) marked the high point in the

productions of works in the history of chemistry—by

both chemist-historians and historians of chemistry as

I have defined them. Particularly in the history of science

community in America, which I know best, history of

chemistry moved from centrality in the 1960s to a much

more marginal position by the 1980s, and many of the

actors of the earlier decades moved on to research in other

fields. It is difficult to say why. Possibilities include the

negative image that chemistry bore by the 1970s, the fact

that increasing numbers of young scholars entering the

history of science lacked the technical knowledge of their

forebears (necessary in pursuing history of chemistry),

and perhaps the fact that chemistry did not deal with the

increasingly fashionable “existential” issues of our ori-

gins, destiny, and purpose as did biology (and geology),

physics, and psychology. But these are speculations.

Among the small but intrepid cadre of chemist-

historians in HIST, interest in the history of chemistry

was maintained and, with the appearance of the Beckman

Center for the History of chemistry and its successor, the

Chemical Heritage Foundation, the history of chemistry

has at last found an institutional home.

In recent years, there has been a resurgence of inter-

est in the history of chemistry but the foci of research are

somewhat different from earlier decades. Firstly, there

is now an interest in very recent developments, such as

molecular biology and genomics. Secondly, at the other

temporal end, there has been a real increase


as “take



in the study of alchemy or “chymisty” of the six-

teenth and seventeenth centuries. Thirdly, there is a good

deal of interest in the history of the development of indus-

trial research in chemistry and chemical industry. Finally,

and more generally, scholars are interested in chemistry

as “material culture:” the pursuit of chemically-related

crafts such as pharmacy, metallurgy, and the making of

products such as perfumes.

All of these foci in one way or another emphasize

a feature of chemistry that often was underplayed in

earlier writing both of chemist-historians and historians

of chemistry: chemistry has always been as much about

the making of products as it has been about discovering

and scientifically explaining natural knowledge. It has

always contained both craft and scientific components.

In contemporary research in the history of chemistry, the

science of chemistry is being recognized in its full extent.

References and Notes



Presented at the 233rd National Meeting of the American

Chemical Society, Chicago, IL, March 27, 2007, HIST


2.  H. Kopp, Geschichte der Chemie, 4 Vols., F. Vieweg und

Sohn, Braunschweig, 1843-1847.

3.  J. R. Partington, A History of Chemistry, 4 Vols., Macmil-

lan, London, 1961-1970.

4.  T. Thomson, The History of Chemistry, 2 Vols., Henry

Colburn and Richard Bentley, London, 1830-1831.

5.  A. Ladenburg, Vorträge über die Entwicklungsgeschichte 

der Chemie in den letzten hundert Jahren, F. Vieweg und

Sohn, Braunschweig, 1869.

6.  J.-B. Dumas and E. Grimaux, Oeuvres de Lavoisier, 6

Vols., Imprimerie imperial, Paris, 1862-1893.

7.  M. Berthelot, Les origines de l’alchimie, G. Steinheil,

Paris, 1885, is one example.

8.  P.-M.-M. Duhem, Le mixte et la combinaison chimique: 

Essai sur l’évolution d’une idée, C. Naud, Paris, 1902.

9.  I. Freund, The Study of Chemical Composition: An Ac-

count of Its Method and Historical Development, Cam-

bridge University Press, Cambridge, England, 1904.

10.  M. B. Ogilvie, “Freund, Ida (1863-1914), chemist,”

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, http://www. There

has recently been an uptake of interest in Freund. See B.

Palmer, “Ida Freund: Teacher, Educator, Feminist, and

Chemistry Textbook Writer,”

IPSI BgD Transactions on 

Internet Research, 2007, 3, 49-54, http://www.internet-;


Hill and A. Dronsfield, “Ida Freund, the First Woman

Chemistry Lecturer,” Roy. Soc. Chem. Historical Group 

Newsletter, January 2011,


Bull. Hist. Chem., VOLUME 36, Number 2 (2011)


11.  M. Bursey, Francis Preston Venable of the University of 

North Carolina, Chapel Hill Historical Society, Chapel

Hill, North Carolina, 1989.

12.  F. P. Venable, A Short History of Chemistry, D. C. Heath,

Boston, 1894 [1901]; The Development of the Periodic 

Law, Chemical Publishing Company, Easton, Pennsyl-

vania, 1896; History of Chemistry, D. C. Heath, Boston,


13.  Venable, “Preface,” A Short History of Chemistry (1901),

no pagination. The preface is dated in the text as June,


14.  Venable, “Preface,” History of Chemistry, no pagination.

The preface is dated in the text as June, 1922. I used the

London edition (same date and publisher).

15.  Venable, “Prefatory Sketch,” The Development of the 

Periodic Law, 1.

16.  T. L. Davis, The Chemistry of Powder and Explosives,

Wiley, New York, 1943.

17.  Her major works in the history of chemistry were: La 

genèse de la science des cristaux, Alcan, Paris, 1918;

Les doctrines chimiques en France du début du XVII



la fin du XVIII


 siècle, Presses Universitaires de France,

Paris, 1923; Newton, Stahl, Boerhaave et la doctrine 

chimique, Alcan, Paris, 1930. For recent scholarship, see

G. Freudenthal, Ed., Études sur Hélène Metzger, Brill,

Leiden, 1990.

18.  T. S. Kuhn, “Preface,” The Structure of Scientific Revolu-

tions, 3


edition, University of Chicago Press, Chicago,

1996, viii.

19.  For a thoughtful article on Sarton and his role in develop-

ing the history of science as a professional field, see A.

Thackray and R. K. Merton, “On Discipline Building: The

Paradoxes of George Sarton,” Isis, 1972, 63, 472-495. For

an entire issue of Isis devoted to Sarton and the develop-

ment of the history of science in the United States, see:

“Sarton, Science, and History,” Isis, 1984, 75, 1-240.

20.  J. Dauben, M. L. Gleason, G. E. Smith, “Seven Decades

of History of Science: I. Bernard Cohen (1914-2003),

Second Editor of Isis,” Isis, 2009, 100, 4-35.

21.  The history of the inception and development of the

Wisconsin program is based on V. L. Hilts, “History of

Science at the University of Wisconsin,” Isis, 1984, 75,

63-94. Before 1940, Edward Kremers (1864-1941) had

promoted the teaching of the history of pharmacy and

professional activities in the history of science generally.

For Henry Guerlac, see M. Boas Hall, “Eloge: Henry

Guerlac, 10 June 1910-29 May 1985,” Isis, 1986, 77,


22.  W. A. Smeaton, “History of Science at University College

London, 1919-1947,” Brit. J. Hist. Sci., 1997, 30, 25-28.

23.  H. M. Leicester, The Historical Background of Chemistry,

Science Editions, Wiley, New York, 1965 [first edition,


24.  Leicester, “Preface,” Historical Background, v.

25.  Venable, History of Chemistry, 34.

26.  Leicester, Historical Background, 123.

27.  I have not treated J. R. Partington in this article but

I  will  make  a  comparative  reference  to  his A  Short 

History of Chemistry here. This work has the virtue

of attention to primary sources, quoted extensively. I

would judge its evaluation of the phlogiston theory to

be mid-way between that of Venable and Leicester:

“Stahl inverted the true theory of combustion and calcina-

tion…. He neglected the quantitative aspects of chemical

change, disregarded what was known of gases, and paid

little attention to atomic theory. On the other hand,…

his theory linked together a large number of facts into a

coherent body of false doctrine, suggested new experi-

ments, and led to discoveries.” J. R. Partington, A Short 

History of Chemistry, 3


ed., Macmillan, 1957 [1965

reprint], London, 88.

28.  J. B. Conant and L. K. Nash. Eds., Harvard Case Histo-

ries in Experimental Science, 2 vols., Harvard University

Press, Cambridge, MA, 1957.

29.  Case  2:  “The  Overthrow  of  the  Phlogiston Theory”

(Conant);  Case  4:  “The Atomic-Molecular Theory”

(Nash); Case 5: “Plants and the Atmosphere” (Nash);

Case 6: “Pasteur’s Study of Fermentation” (Conant).

30.  H. Guerlac, Lavoisier—the Crucial Year: The Background 

and Origin of his First Experiments on Combustion,

Cornell University Press, Ithaca 1961.

31.  A. J. Ihde, The Development of Modern Chemistry, Harper

& Row, New York, 1964.

32.  Ihde, Development, xi.

33.  Ihde, Development, 733.

34.  Not quite the last; a major general narrative of the his-

tory of chemistry, written by a distinguished historian of

chemistry, appeared in 1992: W. H. Brock, The Fontana 

History of Chemistry, Fontana Press, London, 1992, pub-

lished in the US as The Norton History of Chemistry, W.

W. Norton & Co., New York, 1993.

About the Author

Seymour Mauskopf received his B.A. from Cornell

University and his Ph.D. from Princeton University in

the history of science. His fields of research interest

are the history of chemistry [Crystals and Compounds,

1976, Chemical Sciences in the Modern World, 1993]

and the history of marginal science (parapsychology)

[The Elusive Science, with Michael R. McVaugh, 1980].

In 1998, he received the Dexter Award for Outstanding

Contributions to the History of Chemistry from the

American Chemical Society. He taught history of science

at Duke University since 1964 (receiving the Alumni

Distinguished Undergraduate Teaching Award in 2006)

and retired at the end of 2010. Currently, he is working

on a book on Alfred Nobel’s interactions with British

munitions scientists in the late nineteenth century.

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