Vol. 4  Iss. 5
The Chemical Educator 
© 1999 Springer-Verlag New York, Inc. 

ISSN 1430-4171
S 1430-4171(99) 04319-3 

Book Review  

The Making of the Chemist:
The Social History of Chemistry in Europe 1789-1914
Edited by David Knight and Helge Kragh

 Reviewed by
George B. Kauffman
California State University, Fresno, Fresno, CA 93740-8034
george_kauffman@csufresno. edu

The Making of the Chemist: The Social History of Chemistry in Europe 1789-1914; David Knight and Helge Kragh, Eds. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, England; and New York, 1998. Figures, tables, maps. xxi + 353 pp. 18.0 × 25.3 cm. $80.00; £50.00. ISBN 0-521-58351-9.

The European Science Foundation (ESF) is an association of 62 major national funding agencies devoted to basic scientific research in physical and engineering sciences, life and environmental sciences, medical sciences, humanities, and social sciences in 21 countries. It acts as a catalyst for the development of science by bringing together leading scientists and funding agencies to debate, plan, and implement pan-European scientific and science policy initiatives.

In 1993 the ESF sponsored a scientific program on "The Evolution of Chemistry in Europe, 1789–1939," which explored the historical development of European chemistry from a variety of novel standpoints. This exploration occurred in the form of three series of workshops, in which leading scholars participated. These series dealt with the chemical profession; communication, texts, and laboratories; and chemical industry. Each workshop dealt with different time periods, and each resulted in one or more publications. One workshop of the first series, dealing with the application of science to industry during the period 1789-1850, the time of the First Industrial Revolution, was held in Liège, Belgium in 1994. It resulted in this collection of 18 chapters by 19 chemists and historians of chemistry or science from 13 countries (5 from the UK, two each from Belgium and Italy, and one each from Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Lithuania, The Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, and the USA).

Unlike many multiauthor symposium-type volumes, which are often disparate collections, this book features closely integrated essays because, during workshop sessions, the contributors discussed precirculated drafts of the chapters to elicit connections and parallels as well as differences in the course of professionalization of chemistry in the various countries. David M. Knight, Professor of History and Philosophy of Science at Durham University, England, and Helge Kragh, Professor of History of Science at Aarhus University, Denmark, have provided a preface and an afterword, respectively, which masterly summarize the contents and conclusions of the individual chapters and thus give an overview of the entire volume.

Although chemistry dates from the practical work of ancient artisans, as a science it matured relatively lately compared to the classical sciences of mathematics, astronomy, and physics, which played major roles in the Scientific Revolution of the 17th century. The corresponding Chemical Revolution did not occur until the publication of Lavoisier's Traité élémentaire de chimie (1789), the commencement of the period dealt with in the volume under review. Thus chemistry, soon considered the most fundamental, fashionable, and useful of the natural sciences, began to emerge in Europe as a distinct and mature science and profession only at the inception of the 19th century. In England by 1820 chemistry was an autonomous science of great prestige (Sir Humphry Davy became President of the Royal Society), but chemists still had no corporate identity. As chemistry developed, frequently from an ancillary position in medicine, pharmacy, or industry (e.g., Liebig's world-renowned laboratory at Giessen began as a pharmaceutical-chemical institute), chemists, who were destined to become the largest of scientific groups, gradually established themselves as professionals, but very differently in different countries because of their diversities in geography and mobility, history, government, industrialization, employment opportunities, economics, and other factors.

In keeping with these differences, the book, like Gaul, is divided into three parts: 1) "The Big Three," France, Germany, and Britain, where the major institutions and developments were located (7 chapters, 127 pp); 2) "Medium Developed Countries," Italy, Russia, Spain, Belgium, Ireland, and Sweden, where some eminent chemists worked and important events occurred (6 chapters, 99 pp); and 3) "On the Periphery," Greece, Portugal, Denmark, Norway, Lithuania, and Poland, which were then essentially importers of chemistry, with different connections to the major or medium countries (5 chapters, 94 pp). Although much has previously been written about chemistry in the three major countries and in some of the medium ones, little has been available, especially in English, about the peripheral countries. Travel, translation, and political alliances all played a part in the transmission of chemistry across national borders.

The book traces the social history of chemistry in these 15 European countries and how it became an autonomous and prestigious profession ("a group of people with a full-time vocation based on a shared training which is distinct to the group") and community. A number of factors were involved in this evolution:

Readers of this important book will follow a series of connected stories with familiar themes but unfamiliar features and will "encounter the pleasure of recognition and the sting of surprise as they encounter similar but different chemical cultures. They will learn a little chemistry, and a great deal about chemistry; and indeed about science in general." In short, the book shows how chemistry in particular and science in general transformed European society during the 19th century, which Knight has aptly called "the Age of Science." Because chemistry was primarily a European science during this century (it was not until after World War I that the center of chemical activity began to shift toward the United States), the book essentially surveys, examines, and analyzes the entire progress of chemistry during this time.

Replete with 17 tables, 12 figures, 2 maps (Europe in 1815 and 1914), and a 5-page (double-column) index, this scrupulously documented (primary and secondary sources, some as recent as 1997 or even in press) volume will be of interest to historians of chemistry or science as well as to chemists concerned with the development of their science.