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IAS International Visiting Fellow, Professor Lawrence Principe (JHU)

Professor Lawrence Principe will be hosted by the Centre for the Study of the Renaissance as an IAS Visiting Fellow from 7-11th May 2018. He was nominated by Dr Michael Bycroft (History) and Professor Ingrid de Smet (Centre for the Study of the Renaissance).

About Prof. Principe

Prof. Principe is the Drew Professor of the Humanities at Johns Hopkins University, where he is cross-appointed to the Department of the History of Science and Technology and the Department of Chemistry. He is also the Director of the Singleton Center for the Study of Premodern Europe at JHU. He is a distinguished historian of science whose research has transformed our view of early modern alchemy. In particular, he has shown that early alchemical texts, despite their obscure and symbolic language, were based on real chemical operations. His CV bears witness to a varied and distinguished career which includes PhDs in Chemistry and the History of Science; the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship in 2015-16; the Pfizer Prize in 2005 for the year’s best book on the history of science, as judged by the History of Science Society; several awards for teaching at Johns Hopkins University; a book on the scientific revolution that has been translated into five languages; and publications on a wide range of topics, from organic chemistry to the history of the science/religion debate.

1. Alchemical masterclass

Tuesday 8th May 2018, 10-12am, Ramphal R2.41.

This is a masterclass that combines textual study and a hands-on experiment. Principe will describe and show videos of a process drawn from the writings of the English alchemist George Ripley, said to be the first step in the fabrication of the philosophers' stone. He will then demonstrate one of the more remarkable steps, and explore how reproducing the process not only illustrates the texts, but points out unexpected problems with them.

Participants are encouraged to read the following short texts in advance of the event:

1. Principe, Lawrence, "The Golden Age: Practicing Chymistry in the Early Modern Period", in his The Secrets of Alchemy (University of Chicago Press, 2012) - click here to view the electronic version of this chapter, courtesy of the Warwick University library. If you are unable to access this version of the reading, email for advice.

2. Instructions for creating the philosopher's stone, from The Bosome-Book of Sir George Ripley.(written late 15th century; first published London, 1683) - click here to download the text, courtesy of Prof. Principe.

To register your interest in this event, please email before April 30, 2018. Please note that numbers are limited, and that priority will be given to students at undergraduate and graduate level.

2. Alchemy at the Cutting-Edge: The Surprising Longevity of Gold-Making - public lecture by Larry Principe

Wednesday 9th May 2018, 4-6pm, S0.21 (Social Sciences Building), University of Warwick. The lecture will be followed by a small drinks reception in the Social Sciences foyer. All welcome.

Alchemy did not part ways with chemistry in the seventeenth century, as most popular histories suggest and as many historians still believe. Transmutational alchemy—the attempt to turn base metals into gold—was practised by many leading members of the Paris Academy of Science in the first half of the eighteenth century. More surprisingly still, the practice persisted into the nineteenth century, when there was a remarkable but today scarcely noticed rapprochement between alchemy and chemistry, including among members of the Paris Academy. This lecture will appeal to a broad audience, including chemists, historians and classicists, as well as students in these disciplines.