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Dr Michael Bycroft

Office: H017, ground floor of the Humanities Building

Email and phone:, 024 761 50442 (internal: 50442)

CV: Click here to view my full CV

Term-time office hours: Monday, 12-1pm (face-to-face), Thursday 1-2pm (Teams)

Please email me in advance of the Thursday office hour to arrange a slot on Teams. On Mondays you can just turn up at my office. Note that I will be on leave for much of term 1 of 2021, from October 7th to November 24th.

In brief. I am a historian of early modern science, technology and medicine. My specialty is French history, but I pay close attention to the connections between France, the rest of Europe, and the wider world. The theme of my research is knowledge: how people acquire it, how they defend it, and what they do with it. My research connects the history of ideas to economic, political and technological history, and to the history of art. I am preparing two books on precious stones in the early modern world. I am also working on a new project on the role of technical expertise in the formation of the French state, c. 1450-1750.

Research centres and networks

History of Science and Technology Hub

Global History and Culture Centre

Early Modern and Eighteenth Century Centre

Centre for the History of Medicine

Current teaching

HI174 The Enlightenment (undergraduate first-year option module)

HI2D5 Science, Technology and Society, 1400 to Present (undergraduate second-year option module)

HI323 Historiography (undergraduate third-year module)

Career path

Sep 2017-: Assistant Professor in the History of Science and Technology, University of Warwick
2014-2017: Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship, University of Warwick
2013-2014: Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Dupré Group, Max Planck Institute for the History of Science
2010-13: PhD, History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge
2007-8: MA, History and Philosophy of Science, University of Toronto, Canada
2003-5: BA, History and Philosophy of Science, University of Canterbury, New Zealand
2006: BSc, Physics and Mathematics, University of Canterbury, New Zealand


My current project is Gems in the Early Modern World. The premise of this project is that gems played an important role in science, medicine, trade, travel and decorative art in the early modern period, and that as a result they are an excellent tool for studying the relationship between these domains of human activity.

My monograph, Gems and the New Science: Craft, Commerce and Classification in Early Modern Europe, shows that gems were central to many branches of natural science in early modern Europe, and that the science of gems sheds light on several questions of wider interest to historians of early modern science, including the relationship between natural history and natural philosophy, the relationship between the first and second scientific revolutions, and the consequences for natural knowledge of the rising status of artisans and the integration of Europe into global trade networks.

With Sven Dupré I am editing Gems in the Early Modern World: Materials, Knowledge, and Global Trade, 1450-1800, a collection of papers on early modern gems that are global in scope and interdisciplinary in spirit.

My next major project will be on the role of technical expertise in the formation of the French state, c. 1450-1750. I am especially interested in the expertise involved in determining the quality of material goods--in determining, for example, that this coin is made of gold of the right degree of purity, that this dye is fixed rather than fugitive, that this mineral water will cure me from choleric, and this piece of porcelain is an Oriental original rather than a European imitation.

My other interests include the life and work of the French scientist Charles Dufay (1698-1739), the subject of my PhD thesis; the role of institutions in shaping scientific inquiry, especially in early modern France and England; the rococo movement in the decorative arts, and its connections to the science of the time; science in the Encyclopédie of Diderot and d'Alembert; and the fate of wondrous phenomena in the Enlightenment. I have also written on methodological questions in the history of science, including anachronism, the symmetry principle, the internal/external distinction, and the historiographical legacy of Thomas Kuhn; reflections on these topics can be found on my now-dormant blog,

Selected publications
  • “Iatrochemistry and the Evaluation of Mineral Waters in France, 1600-1770,” in Bulletin for the History of Medicine, special edition on “Testing Drugs and Trying Cures”, ed. Elaine Leong and Alisha Rankin, forthcoming in 2017.
  • “What Difference Does a Translation Make? The Traité des vernis (1723) in the Career of Charles Dufay,” in Translation and the Circulation of Knowledge in Early Modern Science, ed. Sietske Fransen and Niall Hodson (Brill, forthcoming in 2017).
  • “How to Save the Symmetry Principle,” in The Philosophy of Historical Case Studies, ed. Raphael Scholl and Tilman Sauer, Boston Studies in the Philosophy and History of Science 319 (Springer, 2016).
  • “Dutour et le spath d'Islande: entre l’optique et la géologie,” in Etienne-François Dutour de Salvert (1711-1789): un physicien auvergnat du XVIIIe siècle, ed. Pierre Crépel and Jean Ehrard (L’Harmattan, 2014).
  • “Dutour et l'électricité: défendeur habile du système Nollet,” Etienne-François Dutour de Salvert (1711-1789): un physicien auvergnat du XVIIIe siècle, ed. Pierre Crépel and Jean Ehrard (L’Harmattan, 2014).
  • “Wonders in the Academy: the Value of Strange Facts in the Experimental Research of Charles Dufay,” Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences, 43(3) (2013) 334-370.
  • “The Trials of Theory: Psychology and Institutionalist Economics, 1910–1931,” Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences 46, no. 2 (2010): 144–64.
Selected talks, workshops, conference panels
  • 2017, Feb 24. “A Failed Innovation: Isaaq Schabraq's Royal Diamond Manufacture in Paris, 1780-1788." Innovation in the Pre-Modern World: Knowledge, Design and Products, workshop at the Institute for Advanced Study, University of Warwick
  • 2016, June 22-5. “The Quantifying Spirit in the Physical Sciences," with Daniel John Mitchell. Panel session at the 3 Societies Conference, Edmonton
  • 2015 May-2016 Apr. “Gems in Transit: Materials, Values and Knowledge in the Early Modern World," with Sven Dupré and Marta Ajmar. 3 workshops held at the University of Warwick, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and Utrecht University / University of Amsterdam, on 18-19 May 2015, 7-8 April 2016, and 11-12 April 2016


Door knocker

Boodt crystals