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

Marieke Hendriksen, Utrecht University, Netherlands

Monday, April 10, 2017 - 12:00pm

Chemical Heritage Foundation (Philadelphia, PA)

315 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106
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.