Research seminar: Recipes, technologies and experiments. Enactment and the emergence of modern science

We meet on Fridays from 5 pm EEST. For the zoom link email to The meetings will figure paper-presentations, discussing various examples and texts, posing problems etc. Feel free to get in touch and propose readings or offer a presentation.

Summer Session 2022

June 2

Fabrizio Baldassarri (Ca’ Foscari University of Venice / Indiana University Bloomington), 15 Chemical Experiments with Plants: Nehemiah Grew’s Science of Botany


March 4, 5 pm (on zoom)

Christoffer Basse Eriksen (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin), Xinyi Wen (University of Cambridge), Colouring Flowers: Books, Art, and Experiment in the Household of Margery and Henry Power


The importance of the early-modern household for the production of experimental knowledge about nature has been thoroughly established in recent scholarship. In this presentation, we zoom in on the botanical knowledge within one specific Halifax household: The household of Margery and Henry Power. While Henry Power has been studied as a natural philosopher within the male-dominated intellectual circles of Cambridge and London, the epistemic labour of his wife Margery Power has hitherto been completely overlooked. Using the books, notebooks and manuscripts of the Power household as our archive, we show how the couple worked in tandem to enhance their understanding of the vegetable world. We trace how botanical information travelled through a variety of paper technologies: From herbals, paper slips and recipe notebooks to Margery’s drawing album and Henry’s microscopical observations in his published Experimental Philosophy. Focusing on Margery’s practice of hand-colouring flower books, her copied and original watercolours of flowers as well as her experimental production of pigments, we argue that Margery’s sensibility towards colour was crucial to Henry’s microscopic observations of plants. Even if Margery’s sophisticated knowledge of plants never left the household, we argue that her contribution nevertheless had an impact on the ways that plants were observed and represented within the community of experimental philosophy. In this way, our presentation contributes to a revaluation of the importance of female artists within the history of scientific observation, the use of books and paperwork in the botanical disciplines, and the relationship between household science and experimental philosophy.


October 15

File:Microscopic observations; or Fleuron N004053-12.png

Dana Jalobeanu, Henry Power, Baconian

This is a short presentation of some of Henry Power’s manuscripts and notebooks and an attempt to place them in context.

October 29

Laura Georgescu, Dana Jalobeanu, Anca Meirosu, Henry Power’s sources; Bacon, Digby and Della Porta

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A discussion of some of Henry Power’s notes in his Probata and a comparative reading of the notes with the sources (Francis Bacon’s Sylva Sylvarum, Kenelm Digby, Two treatises and Giovan Battista della Porta, Magia naturalis). This is part of our more general investigation into the form and genre of Power’s notebook.

November 5

Cesare Pastorino, New perspectives on the investigation of specific weight in the sixteeenth century


Received accounts on the history of the determination of specific weights of substances in the early modern period have mostly focused on the antecedents of modern disciplinary concepts and methodologies. In particular, this has meant that much attention has been devoted to experimentation and measurements adopting the hydrostatic methods based on the principle of Archimedes. However, the use of these methods was not as self-evident and widespread as the modern assessments suggest. In this presentation I will show how the investigation of specific weights in the sixteenth century had a larger scope than the hydrostatic Archimedean tradition, and that its proper history still needs to be written.

November 18 and 19

International Colloquium: Recipes Transformed

November 26

International Colloquium: Recipes Transformed

December 3

Benjamin Goldberg (University of South Florida), Oeconomicks, Receipts, and Household Medicine


Tuesday 13 April

What is enactment? Trying and developing old recipes.

Oana Matei, John Beale. Building technologies through enactment

Tuesday 27 April

What is enactment? The interplay between trials and hypotheses.

Dana Jalobeanu, Enactment and the interplay between ‘data’ and research hypotheses: the „middle region” of the air

Abstract: In the beginning of the second part of the Novum organum Bacon gives us an example which is intended to illustrate the steps of his method of inquiry. Chief among these steps is the operation of filling the tables: tables of presence, absence and variation. However, Bacon’s tables of heat are not really filled in. They contain open-ended questions, gaps, suggestions and ideas of complex experimental inquiries. In a way, they are hardly “tables” and more like lists recorded as something one might want to still work on, in the future. In this paper I am addressing a deceptively simple question: how are these tables supposed to be filled in? Like Bacon, I am also working on a single example: the issue of heat in the middle-region of the air which appears in his table of absence. I will show how Bacon’s followers have pursued this issue in their attempts to fill in the table. And what a difficult task it has proven to be. And I will try to show that thinking of experimental work in terms of deciphering, enactment and recording/encoding can throw an interesting light on these difficult matters.

Tuesday 11 May

Dana Jalobeanu and Oana Matei, Spiritual Technologies: Cider-Making and Natural Philosophy in Early Modern England


Cider making does not strike one as much of a philosophical enterprise. However, in England, in the second part of the seventeenth-century, many natural philosophers were actively involved in it. Among them, a consistent bunch of members of the Royal Society, organized in an agricultural or Georgical Committee. Working on plans previously laid out by Samuel Hartlib and his friends, natural philosophers such as John Beale, Ralph Austen and John Evelyn, practitioners such as John Worlidge or William Lawson, conceived a grand-scale project of turning England into a paradise of orchards, thus replacing wine and beer with cider. This paper investigates the philosophical premises and methodological underpinning of this enterprise, showing that cider-making developed as a branch of applied Baconian science. We show that the grand-scale enterprise of cider making shared a background theory of Baconian inspiration and was conceived in terms of Bacon’s rules and methods of experimenting and collaborative data-sharing. With this Baconian theoretical and methodological framework, naturalists involved in this enterprise selected and tried old recipes, experimented with new ones and turned cider-making into an early modern technology. Central to this technology was the idea that, in the process of cider-making, the naturalist manipulates the living spirits of the vegetal world, encapsulating them in a bottle. In terms of methods and practices, the spiritual technology of cider-making drew on old and new recipes, turning them into trials and experiments, by applying rules and principles of testing, corroborating and collaboration borrowed from other Baconian natural and experimental histories.

Tuesday 25 May

Practical exegetics: a discussion with Jennifer Rampling

We will be discussing the notion of “practical exegetics” starting from Chapters 2 and 3 of Jennifer Rampling’s book, “The Experimental Fire.” The Experimental Fire. University of Chicago Press, 2020.

The `practical exegetics’ is an important concept in Rampling’s book. It denominates a complex methodology of reading and interpreting alchemical texts which effaces many of the differences one can imagine between the practitioner of the medieval alchemy and the historian trying to make sense of the old texts.

Tuesday 15 June

Oana Matei, Vegetation, Fermentation, and Digestion. Nehemiah Grew’s conceptual vocabulary in The Anatomy of Plants

Grew’s Anatomy of Plants presents the microscopic structure, organization and functioning of plants. Apart from that, Grew’s research work allowed him to question and investigate the fundamental process of vegetation using microscopic lenses and to delve into its multiple stages of filtration, separation and mixture. This presentation focuses on Grew’s use of vocabulary in describing the processes through which a seed becomes a mature plant. I will try to delineate what Grew understood by vegetation, fermentation and digestion. I will also try to capture the existing relation between these concepts and to identify how Grew used them in different contexts.  

Tuesday 29 June

Dana Jalobeanu, Experimenting with artificial life: Francis Bacon’s Historia et inquisitio de animato et inanimato

Bacon, Historia de animato et inanimato (BN manuscript, Dupuy collection)

Among the unfinished projects one can find among Francis Bacon’s posthumous and fragmentary works there is an extremely interesting and under-investigated short fragment of a projected history of “animated” and “unanimated” beings. It is called Historia et inquisitio de animato et inanimato. The very title sets this fragment aside from Bacon’s other natural and experimental histories. It is not merely a natural history, but a more advanced, philosophically informed experimental inquiry (the meaning of Bacon’s term inquisitio) into the nature of living beings. And chief among its concern is an attempt to experiment with the production of life itself. But what does it mean to experiment with “artificial life”? It is what I attempt to answer in this presentation.

Tuesday 20 July

Friday 12 August

Insiders and outsiders of the early Royal Society. George Sinclair and the adequate use of historiographic categories – informal discussion led by Dana Jalobeanu.