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The Laboratory Challenge: Some Revisions of the Standard View of Early Modern Experimentation

Ursula Klein
Isis
Vol. 99, No. 4 (December 2008), pp. 769-782
DOI: 10.1086/595771
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/595771
Page Count: 14
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The Laboratory Challenge: Some Revisions of the Standard View of Early Modern Experimentation
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Abstract

ABSTRACT An examination of the use of the word “laboratory” before the nineteenth century yields two striking results. First, “laboratory” referred almost exclusively to a room or house where chemical operations such as distillation, combustion, and dissolution were performed. Second, a “laboratory” was not exclusively a scientific institution but also an artisanal workplace. Drawing on the historical actors' use of “laboratory,” the essay first presents (some necessarily scattered) evidence for the actual correspondence between artisanal and scientific laboratories in the eighteenth century. A particularly instructive case is the way the equipment of the laboratory of the Prussian Academy of Sciences was acquired. There was, in this case, a direct transfer of instruments, vessels, and materials from a pharmaceutical to an academic laboratory. The essay then argues that we ought to distinguish between two different experimental traditions in the early modern period: experimental philosophy and the laboratory tradition that meshed studies of nature with technological innovation.

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