Brown Bag Lecture: Boerhaave’s Mineral Chemistry and Its Influence on 18th-Century Pharmacy in the Netherlands

April 10, 2017
12:00 p.m.–1:00 p.m.
Chemical Heritage Foundation
315 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106
United States

Join us for a Brown Bag Lecture with Marieke Hendriksen, one of our 2016–2017 short-term fellows.

In the 18th century the use of mineral or fossil substances—including metals, earths, salts, and (gem)stones—was common in European medicine and pharmacy. However, this period also saw profound changes in ideas about the nomenclature, chemistry, and curative properties of minerals. It has been argued that an increasing orientation toward the mineral kingdom and the chemical transformation of nonorganic materials, and a rise in the number of mineral preparations demanded of the pharmacist, were characteristic of 18th-century chemistry within pharmacy.

Although this might be true for France, in northern Netherlands a different pattern is visible: although there certainly was a strong interest in the mineral kingdom and the chemical transformation of nonorganic materials, there are no indications that this resulted in a strong increase in the demand for mineral-based pharmaceutical preparations—rather the contrary. Hendriksen argues that the ideas about minerals held by Leiden professor Herman Boerhaave (1668–1738), “teacher of Europe,” were crucial in the development of a certain wariness toward “mineral medicine” in 18th-century northern Netherlands.

John Powers has convincingly shown that Boerhaave restructured and reinterpreted various practices from diverse chemical traditions into a coherent organizational structure and philosophical foundation for an academic chemistry. However, Hendriksen takes the argument a step further by showing that Boerhaave did not just found an academic chemistry; he and his students also profoundly influenced practical medicine and pharmacy with their chemical understanding of minerals, at least in the Netherlands. During her talk Hendriksen will focus on works by Boerhaave and his followers from the Othmer Library collection.

About the Speaker

Marieke Hendriksen is a historian of science, art, and ideas, specializing in the material culture of 18th-century medicine and chemistry. She currently is a postdoctoral researcher within the ERC-funded project Artechne at Utrecht University, Netherlands. From October 2012 until January 2016 Hendriksen worked at the University of Groningen on the Vital Matters project on Herman Boerhaave’s chemistry in 18th-century medicine. During her stay at the Institute in the spring of 2017, she will finish a paper stemming from this project, on Boerhaave’s mineral chemistry and its influence on 18th-century pharmacy. The rich collections at the Institute and the Othmer Library will enable Hendriksen to study and compare unique sources not available elsewhere and to discuss her work with a broad community of historians of chemistry.

Hendriksen received her PhD from Leiden University in 2012. She has held fellowships at, among others, the National Maritime Museum in London, Groningen University, the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin, and the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh. She has her own blog, The Medicine Chest, and is a regular contributor to The Recipes Project. The topics of her publications range from historical anatomical collections and medicine chests to anatomical preparation methods and the production of colored glass.

About the Series

Brown Bag Lectures (BBLs) are a series of (mostly) weekly, informal talks on the history of chemistry or related subjects, including the history and social studies of science, technology, and medicine. Based on original research (sometimes still in progress), these talks are given by local scholars for an audience of the Institute staff and fellows and interested members of the public.