The Chemical Educator, Vol. 7, No. 3, S1430-4171(02)03572-5, 10.1007/s00897020572a, © 2002 Springer-Verlag New York, Inc.

Communicating Chemistry: Textbooks and Their Audiences, 1789-1939. Edited by Anders Lundgren and Bernadette Bensaude-Vincent. European Studies in Science History and the Arts, Vol. 3. Science History Publications/USA: A Division of Watson Publishing International: Canton, MA, 2000. vii + 465 pp., hardcover. 16.0 ´ 23.5 cm. $56.00. ISBN 0-88135-274-8.

George B. Kauffman, California State University, Fresno,

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 a 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. To date no fewer than five publications have resulted from these workshops.

The first, "Strategies of Chemical Industrialization from Lavoisier to Bessemer," 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 [1, 2]. The second, concerned with the mutual relationship between science and industry during the period 1850–1914, corresponding approximately to the so-called Second Industrial Revolution, was held in Maastricht, The Netherlands on March 23–25, 1995 [3].The third workshop, concerned with the period 1900–1939, especially the time between the two World Wars, was held in Strasbourg, France in October, 1996 [4]. A fourth workshop, which dealt with natural dyes, was held in Oxford, England [5].

A fifth workshop, dealing with textbooks, was held in Uppsala, Sweden in February, 1996 and resulted in this collection of 18 chapters by 18 historians of chemistry or science from 9 countries (four from France, three each from Spain and the United Kingdom, two each from Germany and the United States, and one each from Greece, Hungary, Portugal, and Sweden) [6]. It is edited by Anders Lundgren, Associate Professor in History of Science and Ideas, Uppsala University, and Bernadette Bensaude-Vincent, Professor of History and Philosophy of Science, Université Paris X.

Textbooks have suffered from a “bad press,” at least in science studies. Widely regarded as boring, dogmatic, and conservative, they are considered useful only insofar as they provide a window on the “normal science” (in Thomas Kuhn’s sense) of a given period. They do not deal with the creative moments in scientific innovation or the fascinating controversies through which scientific knowledge and progress evolve. Also, even among the channels of scientific communication, they are neither the most glamorous not the most successful means of transmitting information or enthusiasm.

The contributors to Communicating Chemistry,however, consider textbooks to be an interesting subject that deserves the attention of historians. They seek to place textbooks in their contexts, and they demonstrate how textbooks differ from other forms of chemical literature, under what conditions they became established as a genre and developed a specific rhetoric, and how their readers helped shape the profile of chemistry. The chapters and authors are:

1.  “French Chemistry Textbooks, 1802–1852: New Books for New Readers and New Teaching Institutions” (37 pp), Antonio García Belmar and José Ramón Bertomeu Sánchez

2.  “Spanish Chemistry Textbooks, 1788–1845: A Sketch of the Audience for Chemistry in Early Nineteenth-Century Spain” (33 pp), Antonio García Belmar and José Ramón Bertomeu Sánchez

3.  “Theory and Practice in Swedish Chemical Textbooks during the Nineteenth Century: Some Thoughts from a Bibliographical Survey” (28 pp), Anders Lundgren

4.  “Chemistry in Physics Textbooks, 1780–1820” (21 pp), Gunter Lind

5.  “The Language of Experiment in Chemical Textbooks: Some Examples from Early Nineteenth-Century Britain” (24 pp), Brian Dolan

6.  “From the Workshop into Print: Berthollet, Bancroft, and Textbooks on the Art of Dyeing in the Late Eighteenth Century” (22 pp), Agustí Nieto-Galan

7.  “Communicating Chemistry: The Frontier between Popular Books and Textbooks in Britain during the First Half of the Nineteenth Century” (19 pp), David Knight

8.  “Atomism in France: Chemical Textbooks and Dictionaries, 1810–1835” (25 pp), Catherine Kounelis

9.  “Berzelius’s Textbook: In Translation and Multiple Editions, as Seen Through His Correspondence” (22 pp), Marika Blondel-Mégrelis

10. “Three Rhetorical Constructions of the Chemistry of Water” (18 pp), Mercè Izquierdo

11. “From Teaching to Writing: Lecture Notes and Textbooks at the French École Polytechnique” (22 pp), Bernadette Bensaude-Vincent

12. “Dimitrii L. Mendeleev’s Principles of Chemistry and the Periodic Law of the Elements” (15 pp, the shortest chapter), Nathan M. Brooks

13. “Chemistry for Women in Nineteenth-Century France” (15 pp), Natalie Pigeard

14. “The Chemistry of Everyday Life: Popular Chemical Writing in Germany, 1780–1939” (40 pp, the longest chapter), Barbara Orland

15. “Roles and Goals of Chemical Textbooks on the Periphery: The Hungarian Case” (29 pp), Gábor Palló

16. “From Student to Teacher: Linus Pauling and the Reformulation of the Principles of Chemistry in the 1930s” (18 pp), Mary Jo Nye

17. “One Face or Many? The Role of Textbooks in Building the New Discipline of Quantum Chemistry” (35 pp), Kostas Gavroglu and Ana Simões

In a masterly “Introduction: The Study of Chemical Textbooks” (18 pp), which was originally the concluding remarks of the workshop, John Hedley Brooke states,

Textbooks can be more enthralling than their unglamorous image might suggest. The task of stabilizing a body of knowledge, when that knowledge is in a dynamic state, and the tendency in many textbooks to conceal the controversies that ultimately made them possible surely invite deeper analysis. To treat textbooks merely as a window on past theory is to short-change their authors, who were often responding to and endeavoring to reconcile, the demands of publishers on the one hand and of new institutional structures on the other.

Brooke summarizes the contents and conclusions of the individual chapters and thus gives an overview of the entire volume. He raises a number of questions and topics, which the contributors consider or answer in the chapters, which I have identified below by numbers in parentheses:

• What is a workable definition of a textbook? Has it changed with place and time? Can works of popularization and formal textbooks be clearly differentiated? (1, 5, 7, 13–15, 17).

• What are the characteristics of 19th-century textbooks? (1, 10).

• Are there hybrids of the various kinds of textbooks? (7, 15).

• How do textbooks distort the processes of scientific revolution in order to “normalize” scientific knowledge and emphasize its continuity and progressive accumulation? (14).

• What is the role of theory in textbooks, and do changes in meaning occur when theories are exported from one national context to another? (3, 8, 16).

• Does the elimination of controversy produce an artificial image of scientific objectivity? (16, 17).

• Do textbook authors who engage in research include their own participation in this making of science? (6, 7, 9).

• Does the study of textbooks shed light on political and institutional developments in different European countries? (2).

• Is the variety of texts related to the changing role of chemistry in primary and secondary education? (1, 7, 11, 14).

• Can textbooks contain explicit political ideology? (15).

• How does the content of chemistry textbooks reflect new degrees of specialization? (2, 3, 6).

• Why are some texts durable and deemed worthy of translation? (4, 8).

• Is there more to the process of translation of texts than mere translation itself? (3, 6, 7-9).

• To what extent do textbooks reflect pedagogic theory? (5, 7).

• What are the commercial aspects of textbooks? (1, 11).

• What is the readership of textbooks? (12, 15).

• What textbooks make extensive use of history? (2, 3, 7, 11, 12).

• What are the national and regional differences in textbooks and their audiences? (2–5, 7).

• How can textbooks reflect changing boundaries between disciplines, and how they were negotiated? (4, 11, 16, 17).

• In reorganizing material for didactic purposes have new insights been achieved by the textbook author? (The classic case provided by Mendeleev’s discovery of the periodicity of the elements during the writing of his Principles of Chemistry) (12).

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 chemistry textbooks in various countries. Replete with a nine-page (double-column) index of names (but not of subjects), this scrupulously documented (both references and notes to primary and secondary sources) volume, which the contributors consider only a beginning, will be of interest to historians of chemistry or science as well as chemists concerned with the historical development of their textbooks and their science.

References and Notes

1.       The proceedings appeared in Volume 46 (1996) of the Archives Internationales d'Histoire des Sciences.

2.       The Making of the Chemist: The Social History of Chemistry in Europe 1789–1914; Knight, D. M.; Kragh, H., Eds.; Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, England; New York, NY, 1998 (For a review see Kauffman, G. B. Chem. Educator [Online] 1999, 4, 201–203).

3.       The Chemical Industry in Europe, 1850–1914: Industrial Growth, Pollution, and Professionalization; Vol. 17; Homburg, E.; Travis, A.S.; Schröter, H. G., Eds.; Chemists and Chemistry Series; Kluwer: Dordrecht, The Netherlands; Boston, MA; London, England, 1998 (For a review see Kauffman, G. B., Endeavour 2002, 23 (4), 187).

4.       Determinants in the Evolution of the European Chemical Industry, 1900–1939: New Technologies, Political Frameworks, Markets and Companies, Vol. 16; Travis, A. S.; Schröter, H. G.; Homberg, E.; Morris, P. J. T., Eds.; Chemists and Chemistry Series; Kluwer: Dordrecht, The Netherlands; Boston, MA; London, England, 1998 (For a review see Kauffman, G. B. Ann. Sci. 2000, 57, 105–106).

5.       Natural Dyestuffs and Industrial Culture in Europe, 1750–1880; Fox, R.; Nieto-Galan, A., Eds.; European Studies in Science History `and the Arts; Watson Publishing International: Canton, MA, 1999.

6.       An ESF conference, organized as part of the Commission on the History of Modern Chemistry, formed in 1997, and titled “Between Physics and Biology: Chemical Sciences in the Twentieth Century,” was held in Munich in 1999 and resulted in the collection, Chemical Sciences in the 20th Century; Reinhardt, Carsten, Ed.; Wiley-VCH: Weinheim, Germany, 2000. A related but independent conference, held on March 20–22, 1997 at the University of California, Berkeley, resulted in another collection, The German Chemical Industry in the Twentieth Century; Vol. 18; Lesch, J. E., Ed.; Chemists and Chemistry Series, Kluwer: Dordrecht, The Netherlands; Boston, MA; London, England, 2000 (For a review see Kauffman, G. B. Angew. Chem., Int. Ed. Engl. 2002, 41, 186–187).