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The Material Turn and the History of Chemistry by Prof Simon Werrett

25 March 2021

On Tuesday, 23rd 2021 Prof Simon Werrett spoke to the Society for the History of Alchemy and Chemistry on “The Material Turn and the History of Chemistry”.

Dr Simon Werrett

Prof Simon Werrett, Professor of the History of Science at UCL Department of Science and Technology Studies, delivered a lecture for the Society of History of Alchemy and Chemistry on the paper 'The Material Turn and the History of Chemistry'.

Recent years have witnessed a “material turn” in the history of science interested in placing instruments, objects, materials and practice at the centre of historical accounts. In many ways the history of chemistry has always been a “material history”, yet the field has not always had the prominent place it deserves in the material turn. In this paper, Prof Werrett reflects on several projects he has been involved with where history of chemistry and material histories come together.

His work on “Compound Histories” (with Lissa Roberts) and “Thrifty Science” considered how a close engagement with object histories helps reveal broader approaches to materials at different times that shape chemical practices and social order. An ongoing project on “Materials and Time” (with Bernadette Bensaud-Vincent, Marie Thébaud-Sorger and others) examines a surprisingly varied array of temporalities in chemical substances, and raises the issue of collaborations between historians and chemists. Meanwhile discussions in Ambix and the Forum for the History of Chemical Sciences (FoHCS) are exploring the idea of a “Chemical Humanities” that would draw on diverse disciplines to make sense of the social and material world in novel ways. These projects argue for a more integrated appreciation of materials and chemistry, and offer exciting prospects for future research combining both fields.

The lecture is available to watch online at the following link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2dnDBrVnywM