Revealing the natural processes through the laboratory (Phase II): The quest of material principles in the three kingdoms until the specialization of science in the 1800s
Thematic Project FAPESP 2011/14040-9

The focus of our previous project was a significant network of discussions on the principles of matter that extended into the 18th century at least. That network was characterized by the resource to laboratory work based on the study and revision of ancient and/or traditional sources. That network developed along two directions, as some men of science conceived of the principles of matter as being characteristic of each of the three kingdoms of nature, others believed in the existence of one single principle that circulated among the three kingdoms. Discovery of previously unknown documents paved the road for new research paths, which we intend to explore in the second phase of an earlier project (Fapesp 2005/56638-7) aiming at further development of some its original features, with the addition of new variables to: 1) investigate the network that resulted from 16th and 17th century Associationism; 2) discussing the relationship between science and technique, to understand the role of laboratory work, as well as the transmission of trade secrets, as it was one of the main reasons for the continuous quest for, and long-lasting permanence of the ancient sources; 3) widen the scope of the study, by including the 19th century, when the process of specialization of science, which led to the modern system of parametrization,   effectively took place, and the notion of principle(s) of matter was definitively overcome; and 4) to reassume some of the topics addressed in another previous project (FAPESP 1999/12791-3) to elaborate on the division and organization of knowledge, aiming at more thorough understanding of the various shapes the ‘tree of knowledge’ acquired until the modern process of specialization began.


New perspectives for classification and approach in the history of science: theoretical-methodological and technical aspects in the elaboration of appropriate search tools
CNPq Universal Project 474061/2010-8

As an interdisciplinary field of studies, history of science systematically met serious problems relative to the identification, localization, and classification of the documents required for research. That situation was made even more complicated in the past decade, as a result of the “digital revolution”. The present project is included within the scope of an international collaboration to improve the effectiveness of the search for documents relevant to the history of science. CESIMA participation concerns the development of new, especially theoretical-methodological, tools resulting from the latest historiographical conceptions. The conceptual tools to be developed will supply the vocabulary and basic category for indexing and classification specific for research in history of science.


Revealing the natural processes through the laboratory: The quest of material principles in the three kingdoms until the specialization of science in the 1700s
Thematic Project FAPESP 2005/56638-7

Refinement of previous research disclosed the presence of a wide network of individuals involved in discussions on the principles of matter until the 18th century at least. These notions were unfolded in a peculiar, but highly interesting manner by the men who believed that nature could be understood by means of laboratory processes. The notions thus formulated pointed to the presence of a principle proper to each kingdom or nature, or of one single principles common to, but with particular composition in each kingdom of nature. The need to process materials from quite different nature – while often assuming that the principle(s) of matter circulated among the three kingdoms – led to intensive laboratory work, as well to revise of traditional and classic theoretical sources. Our aim in the present project is to analyze the network, deeply impregnated by discontinuities and ruptures, that linked the sciences of matter together, and that leaved its mark even after the process of specialization that started in the 1700s began to unweave it.


The complex transformations of the science of matter: from the compilation of ancient knowledge to modern specialization
1999- 2004
Thematic Project FAPESP 99/12791-3

The new historiography for the history of science has promoted studies on works, authors and schools that give particular value to their specific local historical context.
However, for broad-scoped context analysis not to lose rigor and depth, formulation of interfaces among different authors addressing one same subject are needed.
The present Thematic Project integrates the studies conducted by several scholars affiliated with CESIMA aiming at analyzing the complex transformations underwent by the science of matter at different periods of time from various perspectives.
Such transformations acquired dramatic momentum when modern specialization started dismembering ancient knowledge.


Sources and documents for discussions on the role of nitrous compounds in early modern science
CNPq 476624/2006-1

The aim of the present project is to elaborate on the results of previous project “Historical mapping of the knowledge on nitrogen compounds” (CNPq 403073/2003-0), which were communicated in several publications and scientific meetings.
That initial mapping showed that the history of saltpeter is signaled by controversy. Along many centuries, the knowledge on saltpeter was kept as a trade secret, which awakened much admiration and curiosity, but that also gave rise to uncertainty and confusion. Currently, the only soundly established fact is that saltpeter was known since the remotest antiquity. Thus being, the encompassing history of saltpeter was (and still is) difficult to establish. Very little has been elucidated relative to the discontinuities, inconsistencies and persistent lacks in the oldest documents. The complex situation associated with the sources for such history is not restricted to antiquity. Contrariwise, problems in the nomenclature, identification and consequently, also in the recognition of saltpeter are a constant up to the 19th century. That picture is further complicated by the virtual fact that as a function of its special qualities, whenever it was, indeed, recognized, saltpeter was held as a secret ingredient, and thus was veiled, or even omitted in texts. Having successfully concluded the mapping on the knowledge of saltpeter, and having identified the problems posed at, and the characteristics of various historical periods and places, our current research seeks to deepen in the understanding of the discussions held from the 15th to the 18th centuries that contributed to the formulation of novel approaches to the understanding, production and use of nitrous compounds, such as saltpeter.



Historical mapping of the knowledge on nitrogen compounds
CNPq 403073/2003-0

Some views on the history of chemistry rooted so deeply among scholars, that at some point they stopped to the reviewed. Some such ideas concern the recognition of nitrogen compounds and the process to obtain and use them. Several scholars went as far so as to state that materials such as nitrates and ammonium salts were not known during Antiquity. More recent studies sought to revise such assertions based on the analysis of documents that bear hints that contradict the traditional opinion.
The first stage of the present study focuses on the remotest antiquity in the Mesopotamian setting. Formularies and prescription books then used by craftsmen allow the modern scholar a glimpse on the use of nitrogen compounds.
Such knowledge certainly extended to the Persians, and from them to the Arabs starting in the 11th century. In the West, manipulation of nitrates became certainly known in the 1200s. However, the pathways enabling such circulation are still not known.
Starting in the 15th century, the production of saltpeter increasingly grew, to become a major enterprise in the 1700s. As a whole, the traditional practices were conserved, as also were the quality-based conceptions on matter among both 17th-century mechanistic philosophers and Paracelsian chemists.
Although also the prescription book genre was also conserved, production of saltpeter demanded novel research, which led to the establishment of modern chemistry.
The fluctuating relationship between the traditional and the modern chemistry might be identified in the dictionaries that underwent wide diffusion in the 18th and 19th century centuries.
Thus being, the present project aims at analyzing the problems described above based on the perspective provided by the new historiography for the history of science, by mapping the knowledge on nitrogen compounds from Antiquity to the 19th century. Such mapping ought to reflect the pathways of transmission of the knowledge on nitrogen compounds and their complex cross-elaboration, as well as the evidences of breaks and continuities underwent by the notions on matter and its transformations.


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