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Vol. 35 No. 3
May-June 2013

Where 2B &Y | Announcements of conferences, symposia, workshops, meetings, and other upcoming activities.

Chemical Reactions: Chemistry and Global History

10–12 April 2014, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA

One of the most important developments in the history of science and technology in recent years has been the recognition that, far from being an essentially Western history, it can best be understood and analyzed in the broader context of global history. This is not a call to investigate “influence” or to compare the “achievements” of “the West and the Rest,” but to consider how globally spread interactions and networks of commercial and cultural exchange both depended on and fed scientific and technological investigation and development. Such an approach has proven extremely fruitful in the history of medicine, natural history (botany, etc.), astronomy, cartography, and geography. Surprisingly, the history of chemistry has yet to be analytically integrated with global history in a sustained and organized way. This conference and subsequent edited volume are a first step in that direction.

For the purposes of this international conference to be held at the Chemical Heritage Foundation, the term “chemistry” should not be considered in a scientifically narrow, discipline-bound way. Rather, we are interested to include examinations of knowledge-claims and practices, wherever they were situated or travelled, that somehow involved the de- and re-composition of material compounds, irrespective of whether they were labeled as “chemistry” by contemporaries.

Topics

In order to provide a manageable way into this huge and fascinating field, the conference will be limited to the 17th–20th centuries and will be organized around a small number of topic areas:

  • Chemistry and Global Commodities—examples include porcelain, sugar, oil, rubber (natural and synthetic) and “recreational drugs.”
  • Chemistry and Environment—modifying or sustaining the environment through chemistry, whether conscious or as an unintended by-product. Examples range from pest control to “cradle to cradle” modes of production and include globally connected topics such as the Green Revolutions and Bhopal.
  • Chemistry and Global Health—from the early-modern circulation of drugs and pharmaceutical knowledge to recent struggles over patent rights and distribution of medicines.
  • Chemistry and Industry—from the early-modern world of porcelain manufacture, textile production and dyeing to recent issues relating to the mining and exploitation of minerals only available in war-torn areas of Africa, production of computers and cell phones.
  • Chemistry and Governance—the role of governments, trading companies, (professional and amateur) scientific societies, and corporations in managing and directing the production and circulation of chemically-based productions, methods and knowledge
  • Chemistry and Everyday Life—the introduction of new processes and materials such as glass, cement, synthetic fibers, ersatz foods, plastics, and nano-materials. Subject areas might include topics such as architecture, clothing and fashion, food and drink.

Running through the entire conference, we hope, will be attention to the material exchange of chemical techniques of all kinds across different cultures around the world, whether carried by commodities, books, concerns about public health, or profit-seeking entrepreneurs.

Submit a Proposal

One-page proposals for individual presentations or round-table discussions that fall under any of these rubrics or focus on relations between them are welcome. We hope to include not only historians of chemistry, but also historians who more generally investigate global commodities, the environment, global health, industry, governance, and material culture. The deadline for proposal submission is 1 June 2013. Travel support for participants, to defray the cost of transportation and lodging, will be available. The conference will be open (without cost) to all who are interested.

Proposals should be sent to Carin Berkowitz <cberkowitz@chemheritage.org>.

For further information, please contact Carin Berkowitz or Lissa Roberts <l.l.roberts@utwente.nl>.

 

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