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Sergei Zotov

Research travel report April 2023

I spent three weeks conducting research activities in the United States during the spring season. This research trip was made possible through the HRC/CSR research award. It provided me with the opportunity to meet Professor Lawrence Principe, the director of Johns Hopkins' Singleton Center for the Study of Premodern Europe, as well as other individuals at JHU. Additionally, I consulted numerous alchemical manuscripts at the Beinecke Library in Yale.

During my time at JHU, I had the privilege of engaging with esteemed scholars in my field and sharing my ideas with them. Professor Lawrence Principe, a leading authority in alchemy, has made significant contributions to the field by demonstrating the sophisticated chemical operations involved in early alchemy. I have previously encountered Professor Principe at alchemy conferences in Gotha and Wolfenbüttel in 2019, and our research connections have endured. He has provided valuable guidance on the intricacies of my dissertation project and has given consent to review sections of it prior to submission. His expertise and broad understanding of alchemy, as well as his familiarity with the manuscripts I am working with, make this collaboration an invaluable contribution to my thesis. I had the opportunity to visit Principe's chemical laboratory and discuss my prospective ideas for historical research utilizing modern spectrometry equipment. Furthermore, Principe offered guidance on exploring specific resources at the Beinecke Library, which I later visited before departing from the United States.

Through these interactions, I have established and strengthened my connections with various institutions in the United States dedicated to the study of alchemy. This includes the Department of the History of Science and Technology and the Department of the History of Medicine at JHU, where I engaged with graduate students and post-doctoral researchers such as Dr. Alan Van Der Arendt and Dr. Orsolya Mednyánszky. Our discussions revolved around my project, and they provided valuable advice on methodological approaches and the structure of my work. I also met with leading experts in the field of alchemical studies, with Dr. Jennifer Rampling from Princeton University and Dr. Megan Piorko, who was previously associated with the Science History Institute in Philadelphia and is currently at Villanova University. Additionally, I had discussions with Dr. Elisabeth Moreau from the Science History Institute in Philadelphia to explore current developments in alchemical studies and their potential impact on and enrichment of my research.

The primary focus of my archival research was the Beinecke Library in Yale, where I accessed various copies of alchemical treatises. Of particular significance to my research were twenty illuminated alchemical manuscripts, most of which have not been digitized and are unlikely to be available in that format in the near future due to technical constraints. These manuscripts include the Ripley Scroll (Mellon MS 41), Donum dei (Mellon MS 52, 54, 309), Tabula smaragdina (Mellon MS 34), Speculum philosophiae (Mellon MS 55), The Twelve Keys of Basil Valentine (Mellon MS 56, 74), Museum hermeticum (Mellon MS 70), Book of Lambsprinck (Mellon MS 74), Buch der Heiligen Dreifaltigkeit (Mellon MS 74, 108), Solidonius (Mellon MS 83), Splendor solis (Mellon MS 86), Germaphroditisches Mondkind (Mellon MS 94), Thesaurus mundi (Mellon MS 102), Flamel's Hieroglyphic Figures (Mellon MS 103, 146), and Eleazar's Uraltes Werk (Mellon MS 119). Additionally, I encountered six manuscripts with technical illustrations and diagrams, which are significant for my analysis of alchemical diagrams. Furthermore, I discovered unique annotated and coloured printed copies of Rosarium philosophorum (Mellon MS 201, Mellon MS 202, and QD 25 D 4). Overall, thanks to the assistance of the library staff, I was able to undertake codicological analysis, examine and capture photographs of thirty alchemical manuscripts and printed books, providing invaluable material for my research.

This research trip builds upon a longstanding collaboration between the CSR and JHU's Center for the Study of Pre-Modern Europe. It is part of an ongoing collaboration established through a Memorandum of Understanding. I believe that this fellowship has not only complemented and enhanced my thesis on a theoretical level through research collaborations and discussions but has also introduced new manuscripts that I have incorporated into my work. Additionally, I have promoted my research at the University of Warwick, as well as the online database of alchemical illustrations that I am developing on the University of Warwick's webpage. I am also eager to contribute a blog post to the HRC newsletter (SPECTRUM) and/or the Humanities Research Centre blog following the conclusion of my research trip.

Looking ahead, this research trip has yielded potential outcomes and collaborations. Dr. Piorko has invited me to participate in the Scientia conference this summer (7-10 June in Prague), where we will be hosting a panel on the history of science and alchemy “Mining for alchemical knowledge and natural magic in early modern Germany” alongside Dr. Sarah Lang and Dr. Michael Pickering. This panel aims to delve deeper into the influences of alchemical practices and iconography across European regions and cultures, contributing to a more comprehensive understanding of the development of scientific thought.

Moreover, Dr. Jennifer Rampling has invited me to contribute an article on the impact of Islamic alchemical iconography on European late medieval scientific treatises to a special issue of the “Ambix” journal dedicated to the history of chemistry and alchemy. Together with her, we are exploring the potential of organizing an international symposium on the transmission of alchemical knowledge between the Islamic world and Europe, bringing together scholars from various disciplines to examine the multifaceted aspects of this historical exchange. This symposium would serve as a platform for sharing research findings, fostering interdisciplinary dialogue, and forging new collaborative relationships among scholars interested in the history of chemistry and alchemy.

Furthermore, as a result of my ongoing connection with Lawrence Principe, we have decided to organize a project dedicated to studying chemical stains on manuscript paper in the future. We envision establishing a research team comprised of experts in chemistry, conservation, and manuscript studies, with the goal of developing innovative analytical techniques to identify and interpret chemical residues found on alchemical manuscripts. By elucidating the materials and processes employed by alchemists, this project aims to shed light on their experimental practices and enhance our understanding of the historical context in which they operated.

In conclusion, this research trip has not only enriched my own thesis and academic development but has also paved the way for potential collaborations and future endeavours. Through participation in conferences, contributing to scholarly publications, and initiating collaborative projects, I am dedicated to advancing the field of alchemical studies and fostering fruitful collaborations among researchers interested in the history of science, alchemy, and interdisciplinary scholarship.