Research Seminar: Recipes, Technologies and Experiments. Enactment and the Emergence of Modern Science

We meet on Fridays from 6 pm EEST (on zoom). The meetings figure paper-presentations, discussing various examples and texts, posing problems etc. Feel free to get in touch and propose readings or offer a presentation. For the zoom link email to

This is the regular research seminar organized by Dana Jalobeanu and her team at the University of Bucharest as part of the research grant Recipes, Technologies and Experiments: Enactment and the Emergence of Modern Science (2021-2023). For the Spring session of 2023, this will organized in collaboration with HIAS, in a hybrid format, Friday afternoons in HIAS, Mittleweg 161.

Spring Session 2023

March 3 (3 PM CET)

Fabrizio Baldassari, Descartes and Regius on animal spirits

March 10 (12 EEST)

Grigore Vida, Pierre Borel’s Cartezianism. Descartes as Democritus.

Looking at Pierre Borel’s Life of Descartes, we are asking what is the meaning of Borel’s identifying Descartes with a Democritus redivivus. Reading group led by Grigore Vida.

17 March (5 PM to 6.45 pm CET)

Descartes and the Epicurean tradition (I)

Dan Garber on Descartes’s theory of generation, followed by a discussion on the paper “The Chapters of L’Homme Descartes did not write” in Igor Agostini, Vincent Carraud eds. Cartesius edoctus, Brepols, 2022.

24 March (3 PM CET)

Dana Jalobeanu, Grigore Vida, Democritus, Descartes and the origins of experimental science

This paper investigates how two self-avowed Cartesians used the figure of Democritus to illustrate and explain their respective methodologies of experimental investigation, particularly in the use of the newly invented optical devices, the telescope and the microscope. Our characters, Pierre Borel (1621–1671) and Henry Power (1623–1668), are both accomplished humanists and medical practitioners with a wide interest in natural philosophy. In using the image of Democritus to discuss the epistemology of the new science of microscopy, they made appeal to a trope widely familiar to their educated readers. However, as we are going to argue, behind the figure of Democritus we find a fusion of Cartesianism and Baconianism which lies at the origin of experimental science. We show that, in discussing Democritus, Borel and Power begin from the same paragraph of Bacon’s Novum organum. But they interpret this passage in ways informed by their respective engagements with various Cartesian hypotheses, such as the hypotheses concerning the form and behaviour of water-particles, of salts and metallic particles, taken from Descartes’s Meteors. Borel seems to believe that the main function of the microscope is to substantiate some of these intermediary hypotheses, while Power, on the other hand, although not excluding the testing function of the instrument, tended to use the microscope mainly to correct and amend his hypotheses. In this methodological mixture of Baconiansm and Cartesianism, the age-old trope of Democritus the investigator of nature is brought in to illustrate the advantages and limitations of testing hypotheses.

7 April (3 PM CET)

Oana Matei, Atoms and the generation of plants in early modern natural philosophy

21 April (3PM CET)

Arianna Borreli (RWTH Aachen & Technische Universitat Berlin) Cornelis Drebbel’s work as an example of the techno-magical approach: a heuristic proposal

In this paper I discuss Cornelis Drebbel’s (1572-1633) treatise On the Nature of the Elements (1604?) and his perpetual motion machine (before 1607) as example of what I propose to call the “techno-magical approach” to the study of natural phenomena. The main feature of this approach is that reflection on and conceptualization of the dynamics of chosen natural phenomena were shaped by the structure and functioning of a specific set of technical artifacts. In this context, elements from various natural-philosophical frameworks, such as alchemy, corpuscularism or Aristotelian physics, could be freely and loosely combined to generate an overarching picture of the workings of nature whose template was provided by the artifacts in questions.What I call the techno-magical approach can be seen as a extension of the notion of “thinking with objects” developed by Domenico Bertoloni Meli to describe the emergence of mechanical philosophy.  However, going beyond that I wish to argue that some forms of early modern natural magic, like that of Cornelis Drebbel or Giovanni Battista Della Porta, provided a particularly productive framework for thinking with objects of various kind, because they privileged the material and performative aspects of the investigation  of nature above the formulation of and adherence to coherent abstract natural philosophical views, allowing to originally and flexibly connecting them to construct new concepts to grasp the phenomena in consideration. More in general, though, the techno-magical approach can be regarded as a heuristic notion which can be employed to better understand historical-epistemological constellations from early modernity independently of whether or not the term “magic” was used by the historical actors or by historians dealing with them. Indeed, this heuristic framework might in my opinion also be applied to some modern and contemporary practices of scientific research, such as those making use of digital tools. In this way, a specific notion of magic could be employed as a heuristic category in historical-epistemological research. 

12 May 3 PM CET

Mattia Mantovani (University of Leuven) The Mechanist’s Grinder. Descartes on Atoms and Colours

19 May

Andreas Blank (Klagenfurt) Early Modern Theories of Antidotes and the Controversy between Reductionism and Emergentism

Early modern theories of antidotes (alexipharmaca) revolved around three central, interrelated questions: (1) Do antidotes act upon the organic body affected by poisons or do they act upon the poisonous substances themselves (or a combination of both)? (2) Can antidotes be used only in acute cases of poisoning, or do they also have a prophylactic use? (3) Do antidotes act by means of primary qualities, or by means of higher-order qualities that can be reduced to primary qualities, or by means of their whole substance? The third question leads directly into the controversy between reductionism and emergentism in early modern natural philosophy. Inspired by aspects of the writings of Galen, Alexander of Aphrodisias and John Philoponus, sixteenth-century natural philosophers such as Girolamo Mercuriale (1530-1606) and Jacob Schegk (1511-1587) maintained that complex material composites possess causal powers that cannot be reduced to the combination of the causal powers of their constituents, whereas thinkers such as Gabriele Fallopio (c. 1523-1563) and Thomas Erastus (1524-1583) defended reductionist explanations. Such rival explanatory programs were applied to the analysis of the properties of living beings, as well as to the properties of medicaments and poisons–many of which derived from plants and animals.

26 May

Dana Jalobeanu, Manipulating spontaneous generation? Microscopy and ‘artificial life’

In this paper I look at some of the recurrent experiments of generating artificial life (in water and winegar) from Francis Bacon, Pierre Borel and Kenelm Digby to Henry Power and Robert Hooke to see what attempts they made to turn observations and enact recipes into experiments properly speaking – and what impact this transformation had on their respective hypotheses regarding spontaneous generation and the origins of life.

2 June

Matthias Schemmel (University of Hamburg), Thomas Harriot’s free fall experiments

16 June (possible workshop)

Grigore Vida (University of Bucharest) – From Abdera to Alkmaar: Biographical Reconstructions of Descartes as Democritus redivivus

23 June

Rodolfo Garau,  “How would a Gassendian Method Look Like?”

(in a different location, possibly Univ. of Hamburg, or the Guesthouse)

28-29 June Possible workshop


Fall Session 2022

16 December 2022

Henry Power’s Subterranean Experiments

Working group led by Alexandru Liciu. Focused on the development of the EP mines appendix and its development at the Royal Society (its drafts, how it was problematized at the Royal Society, the research project it was a part of – a collaborative endeavor of measuring gravity in mines). The discussion also touched on mineralogy (and more broadly meteorology) and mining practices.

22 November 2022 (8.30 PM)

Panel Henry Power in the Princeton-Bucharest Seminar in Early Modern Philosophy.

9 November (10 AM)

Dana Jalobeanu, Oana Matei, Christoffer Basse Eriksen, Henry Power between Cartesianism and Baconianism.

15-16 October

The 9th Edition of Bucharest Graduate Conference in Early Modern Philosophy. More info here.

14-15 October

Princeton-Bucharest Conference in Early Modern Philosophy. More info here.

30 September

Preparations for the Princeton-Bucharest Conference and the Graduate Conference.

Summer Session 2022

29 August

Oana Matei on Power’s experiments with plants (Experimental Philosophy) and the possibility of palingenesis (the Probata manuscript).

12 August

Two examples of seventeenth-century Baconianism: Benjamin Worsley and George Sinclair.

28 July

Henry Power’s archive: working group.

27 July

Henry Power’s Experimental Philosophy.

July 7

Henry Power’s archive: working group.

June 2

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

Spring Session 2022

27 May

Henry Power’s Archive: working group. Focus on the Experimental Philosophy’s ‘Introduction’ and Obs. LI, ‘Of Aromatical, Electrical, and Magnetical Effluxions’.

11 May

Henry Power’s Archive: working group. Discussion of some transcriptions from the Probata manuscript (Sloane BL MS 1334).

May 2

Henry Power’s archive: working group.

12 April

Workshop Rethinking the Constituents of Early Modern Science, ICUB-SSU.

18 March

Henry Power’s archive: working group.

March 4 and March

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 (via zoom).


25 February  

Henry Power’s Archive: working group.

7 February  

Henry Power’s Archive: working group.

28 January

Henry Power’s Archive: working group.

12 January

team seminar. Planning for the year ahead.


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

File:Titlepage; Natural magick Wellcome L0064701.jpg

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

Abstract: 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