Ph.D., Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambrdige
2020 to 2021
Distillation: Craft Knowledge, Medicine, and Chemistry in Early Modern Europe
This project is a cultural history of one of the most important processes in the early modern world. In contrast with its narrow modern definition, in the past distillation had much wider, overlapping meanings. It was used to extract medicinal virtues, to interrogate nature, and to produce experimental facts. At the same time, distillation was a technology central to daily life, used in the manufacture of everyday goods, and as a way of making knowledge in households up and down the social scale. It was a ubiquitous process, charged with meaning and emblematic of natural inquiry of all kinds, which united concerns and practices of natural philosophy, alchemy, medicine, artisanry, and chemistry. Based on a range of distillation-related publications, my study asks how it was conceptualised by different practitioners, codified in print, and used to pragmatic ends by people of all walks of life.