Recipes Transformed: seventeenth-century perspectives

18, 19 and 24 November 2021

ICUB-HUmanities, University of Bucharest (online)

First international colloquium of the research project Recipes, Technologies, Experiments: Enactment and the Emergence of Modern Science (PN-III-P4-ID-PCE-2020-0251). Online


19:00- 19:20 Welcome Address

19:20-20:00 Arianna Borrelli (Leuphana University of Lünenburg) -Recipes as Tools for Concept Formation in the Work of Giovan Battista Della Porta

20:00-20:40 Dana Jalobeanu (University of Bucharest) – The “Missing Results” of Bacon’s Tables: Or Reading the Novum Organum in Context


16:00-16:40 Stephen Clucas (Birkbeck University of London) – Going with the Alchemical Flow: Schematizing Laboratory Technique in the Late Sixteenth Century

16:40-17:20 Georgiana Hedesan (University of Oxford) – Between Incomplete and Philosophical Recipes: Deciphering Van Helmont’s Universal Medicines

17:20-18:00 Alexandru Liciu (University of Cambridge) – John Woodward’s “Test” of Observation and the Issue of Civil History

18:00-18:20 Break

18:20-19:00 Laura Georgescu (University of Groningen) – Philosophising with Objects: The Role of Artefacts in Digby’s Treatise on Body

19:00-19:40 Doina-Cristina Rusu (University of Groningen) – Distillations, Spirits, and Essences. Experimentation and Matter Theory in the Early Modern Period

19:40-20:20 Mihnea Dobre (University of Bucharest) – Constructing Experiments with Glass Drops in Jacques Rohault’s Natural Philosophy


16:00-16:40 Florike Egmond (University of Leiden) – Cultivating’ the Sea and Reading its Signs: Marine Expertise of the 16th-Century North Sea

16:40-17:20 Benjamin Goldberg (University of Florida) – Concepts of Experience in Royalist Recipe Collections

17:20-17:40 Break

17:40-18-20 Iordan Avramov (Bulgarian Academy of Sciences) – Communicating Recipes and Experiments via Letters at the Early Royal Society of London

18:20-19:00 Oana Matei  (University of Bucharest, University of Vasile Goldis, Arad)- Building an Early Modern Science of Vegetation: Nehemiah Grew’s Inquiries into the “Anatomy of Plants”



Dana Jalobeanu, Burning glasses from magic to science: the anatomy of a turning point, invited talk in the weekly seminar of the Department of Theoretical Science/CELFIS, 22 november 2021

Dana Jalobeanu, The „missing results” of Bacon’s tables: or reading the Novum organum in context, Recipes transformed 18 november 2021

Dana Jalobeanu, “Whose practice? Francis Bacon’s rules of experientia literata in context”, at the Thomas Harriot in Global and Local Contexts: A Quatercentenary Conference, The Thomas Harriot Seminar and The Warburg Institute, 16 September 2021, online. More info here;

Dana Jalobeanu, ”Emblems as Epistemic Tools and Heuristic Devices: An Exercise on Perspectival Contextualism”, at the Histories of Science and the Humanities conference, European Society for the History of Science and The Research Centre of the Humanities, the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, 23 September 2021, online. More info here;

Dana Jalobeanu, “Francis Bacon on instruments of detection and instruments of measure”, at the Promises of Precision – Questioning ‘Precision’ in Precision Instruments workshop, Mathematisch-Physikalischer Salon, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, 29-30 September 2021, online.

Dana Jalobeanu, Experimenting with artificial life. Francis Bacon on the Historia de animato et inanimato, British Society for the Philosophy of Science, June 2021

Dana Jalobeanu, Bubbles, bladders and the “folds of matter”: on the interplay between experimentation and metaphysics in Baconian natural and experimental histories, The research seminar of CELFIS & Department of Theoretical Philosophy, University of Bucharest, 17 May 2021

Oana Matei, “Particles and Spirits: Fundamental Processes of Nature in Mid-Seventeenth Century Studies of Plants,” Plants in Early Modern Knowledge: History, Philosophy, and Medicine, Center for Renaissance and Early Modern Thought, Ca’Foscari University, Venice, 28.04.2021, 17:30-19:30. Session organized on Zoom.

Oana Matei, Fabrizio Baldassarri, “Plants in Early Modern Natural Philosophy: Mechanico/Chymical Investigations,” Princeton Bucharest Seminar in Early Modern Philosophy, 04.05.2021, 20:00-22:00. Session organized on Zoom.

Oana Matei, “ Plants as Instruments of Knowledge in Early Modern Natural Philosophy,” University of Lisbon, 26.02.2021, 2:30-4:30. Session organized on Zoom.

Dana Jalobeanu, Baconianism and Newtonianism: a history (and philosophy) of shifting historiographic categories, plenary talk as invited speaker at the Panhellenic Conference in Philosophy of Science, December 2020. You can listen to a version of this talk here (given at the Annual Workshop of Philosophy of Science, University of Bergen, November 2019). Online.

Early modern “technologies”: some preliminary clarifications

Our claim is that enactment is the mechanism behind the transformation of early modern recipes. But we also claim that this was a complex transformation which did not lead in a straightforward or univocal way to scientific experiments. Sometimes, enacting recipes resulted in something different altogether, sometimes we are going to call “technology” (Jalobeanu 2016, Jalobeanu and Matei 2020). This term is not an actor’s category, but a useful historiographic tool.

We take “technology” to be descriptive for a particular class of enacting and recording recipes directed towards the production of new (useful or miraculous) objects. Technologies are interlinked with claims of expertise and with particular kinds of enactment. The experimenter constructing a technology is interested in spelling out the tacit knowledge embodied in a recipe in a way that would allow him to control the result, and to “stabilize” the procedure of enactment in so far it always yields the same result.

Recording technologies also has specific features; unlike recipes, they are much more “transparent” to the reader. They can circulate easier and get easily adopted to other contexts. In this project we intend to investigate a number of early modern technologies. We propose to work with quite diverse examples of technologies of grafting, vegetation and fermentation on the one hand, distillation and separation (including desalinization) on the other; showing how much they differ (and why) from scientific experiments.

What we aim to demonstrate in this project, starting from examples and case studies, is something of a general import, namely that far from being proto-experiments, technologies are the very opposite of experimentation. The knowledge they produced (practical as well as theoretical) is always oriented, depending on the expected result. By contrast, experiments are open-ended. Scientific experimentation begins with recipes, but it evolves by leaving it behind. In the process of enactment, open-ended questions distract the inquirer away from the promised result of the recipe. Instead, the enactment itself becomes something to be questioned and investigated. The experimenter still attempts to spell out tacit knowledge; but it is knowledge of a different kind, knowledge expressed in “why” questions relating to the underlying natural processes taking place in the laboratory. We intend to show, again making use of a large number of examples and case studies, that scientific experimentation began when the experimenter abandoned the recipe and started pursuing in earnest some of the why-questions which emerged in the process of enactment.

Corpus of texts

Since recipes are almost everywhere in early modern Europe, our project could have started with very different sets of textual corpuses. We have decided to begin with texts we know better; texts belonging to a certain “Baconian tradition” of experimental philosophy. This is an opportunistic choice because one has to begin somewhere. But we hope that as the project grows we will grow and diversify our corpus of texts and bring to the attention of the scholarly community a whole set of “ways of enactment” one can meet with in early modern texts.

We have organized our textual corpus in the following clusters, in order to break-up our tasks for the next three years. In each case, we do not aim at a comprehensive survey. We merely aim to select what we will show are interesting (and relevant) examples of “enactment” & transformation of traditional recipes into something new, i.e., either technologies or experiments.

  1. Books of recipes, translations and correspondence relating to the reception, in England, of the second edition of Giovanni Battista della Porta’s Magia naturalis.
    1. The notebooks of Hugh Plat. Lawyer, philosopher and entrepreneur, with an interest in developing technologies and selling patents (in the late sixteenth century and the early seventeenth century). Hugh Platt is extremely important because he is a key actor in the reception  of Della Porta’s Magia naturalis (Mukherjee 2010, 2011) in Englandand he was also a vehicle of transmission of ideas and recipes from Della Porta to Bacon and the Baconians of the seventeenth century. 
    2. Correspondence connected with the publication, in 1658, of the English translation of Della Porta (Natural magick). We claim that this volume is an essential example of the transformation of the recipe format which takes place when a work is put in a new context (of reading and practices). In this case, the context is, as we intent to show, that of the Baconian natural and experimental history. Dana Jalobeanu will continue her investigations of this volume (whose translator and context of publication is, to date, unknown, (Jalobeanu, 2020)).
  2. Readers of the Sylva Sylvarum. The second cluster of texts relate to the reception, publication (of successive editions), translation and circulation of Francis Bacon’s Sylva Sylvarum in seventeenth century Europe. A special attention will be devoted to the “scientific” readers (and editors) of the two books, to the correspondence and manuscript work (and marginalia) they generated. In addition to these (mainly) published works we will work on correspondence and manuscripts.
    1. The manuscripts of John Evelyn concerning trades
    2. The manuscripts of Henry Power. Natural philosopher, mathematician and experimenter, thorough Baconian and supporter of a certain brand of experimental philosophy. Henry Power left extensive manuscript records hosted by the British Library which were never subject to a thorough investigation.