A Celebration of the Life and Library of Allen G. Debus, Extraordinary Historian of Early Science and Medicine

Public Events
Friday, June 15, 2018
3:30 p.m.–7:00 p.m.
Science History Institute
315 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106
United States

The Science History Institute is pleased to announce that we have acquired the library of the noted historian of early alchemy and medicine Allen G. Debus (1926–2009), thanks to the generosity of his widow, Brunilda L. Debus. The collection of approximately 800 titles includes more than 300 rare books and important secondary and reference works on the history of early medical chemistry. The largest number of works—120—date from the 17th century, which was Debus’s specialty, with an additional 23 books from the 16th century.

The Institute will be honoring Allen Debus and his collection with a special event at our headquarters in Philadelphia on Friday, June 15, 2018, from 3:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. Several historians of science will speak about Debus’s work and his influence, including Ku-Ming “Kevin” Chang (Academia Sinica, Taipei, Republic of China), Karen Parshall (University of Virginia), Lawrence Principe (Johns Hopkins University), and Paul Theerman (New York Academy of Medicine). This session will be moderated by Carin Berkowitz, Director of the Institute’s Center for Historical Research. James Voelkel, our curator of rare books and manuscripts, will take a closer look at the significance of Debus’s collection and will speak about Debus himself, with members of his family taking part.

This event is partly sponsored by the Bolton Society, a dedicated group of chemical bibliophiles that supports the Othmer Library.

This event is free, but registration is required.

About the Allen G. Debus Collection

As is to be expected from a scholar who focused on Paracelsus and medical chemistry, the collection is strong in these areas, with six titles by Paracelsus and two or more each by such authors as Jean Béguin, Nicaise Le Fèvre, Antoine Deidier, Daniel Sennert, and Petrus Severinus. There are an exceptional number of works by Joseph Du Chesne, a.k.a. Quercetanus, on whom Debus wrote the entry in the Dictionary of Scientific Biography and who was featured in his book The French Paracelsians. The collection also boasts several works by the physician and natural philosopher Robert Fludd.

Of great value especially are works in the Allen G. Debus Collection by important authors in the field, for example, Isaac Newton’s The Chronology of Antient Kingdoms Amended (1728) and Observations upon the Prophecies of Daniel, and the Apocalypse of St. John (1733), and American alchemist George Starkey’s Des hochgelahrten Philalethae drey schöne und auserlesene Tractätlein von Verwandelung der Metallen (From the Illustrious Philalethes, Three Beautiful and Exquisite Tracts on the Transformation of Metals) (1675). Although the Othmer Library collections already hold numerous works by these authors, the Debus Collection titles provide missing pieces in the literature.

A dedicated book-collector expert in the subject such as Debus creates a collection that is far more than the sum of the individual volumes it contains. The Othmer Library is very fortunate to have received whole such a wonderful resource, and we look forward to sharing the Debus Collection with researchers today and in the future.


3:30 p.m.

Welcome and Introduction: Ronald Brashear, Arnold Thackray Director of the Othmer Library

3:40 p.m.

Panel Discussion: The Impact and Influence of Allen G. Debus on the History of Science and Medicine

Participants: Carin Berkowitz, Science History Institute (moderator), with panelists Ku-Ming “Kevin” Chang (Academia Sinica), Karen Parshall (University of Virginia), Lawrence Principe (Johns Hopkins University), and Paul Theerman (New York Academy of Medicine).

5:00 p.m.

Presentation: The Allen G. Debus Collection at the Science History Institute by James Voelkel, Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts

5:30 p.m.–7:00 p.m.

Reception and Remembrances