8:30–9:10 Hjalmar Fors
The New Chemical Understanding of Medicinal Plants in the Late Eighteenth Century and the Problem of Physiological Effect
This paper investigates the emergence of a new chemical-analytical understanding of medicinal plants in the late eighteenth century through the coming together of three different research strands. These strands were (1) the medico-chemical separating of active essences from their matrices (whether they be plant, animal or mineral), (2) the analytic-chemical goal of decomposing substances and characterizing their constituents, and (3) Linnaean plant taxonomy/ botanical description. I discuss how they merged in Carl Wilhelm Scheele’s work on plant and animal acids and conclude with a discussion of the ontological and epistemic challenges that these developments brought. Because, just as its contemporary Kantian philosophy made claims about the limits of obtainable knowledge, this new pharmacology claimed to define the limits of obtainable knowledge about healing plants. But did it? Herein lies the problem of physiological effect: In the late eighteenth century, medicinals became inanimate objects, but how then is one to explain their powerful agency on human bodies, and minds?
9:10–9:50 Christopher Halm
Striving for Experimental Control in the Agrarian «Field-Lab»: The History of Agricultural Chemistry around 1800.
In the mid-18th century, chemists from different European (and American) countries began to explore and describe agricultural processes by means of chemical methods and principles. For around three decades, they developed and refined qualitative as well as quantitative analyses to assess soils and fertilizers. However, since analytical results seemed to be rather theoretical than practical and thus proved unsuitable to convince a broad audience, chemists who sought recognition in agronomy had to leave the spatial confines of their laboratories and lecture halls and go into the fields. At the turn of the century, agronomists and chemists eventually began to cooperate strategically and aligned their experimental and practical considerations. Agricultural research stations founded shortly after were visible results of their newly formed alliance. On the grounds and under the social conditions of these stations, chemists could bring their instruments and reagents from their labs and classrooms onto the greens and soils. They developed and applied new devices to take, collect, and analyze soil samples outdoors. And they performed various trials with field plots and clay pots.
In doing so, as this paper argues, agricultural chemists slowly transformed the arable field as a research space defined by long-term practical experiences and observations into a space of rigorous experimentation. However, considering the obvious tension between control and impermanence in their research area, this space is not to be understood and evaluated as either a laboratory or a field in the conventional sense. Instead it should be recognized as a hybrid. My paper will outline key features, chances, and risks of this so-called field-lab.
10:20–11:00 Kärin Nickelsen
Explaining Forms and Functions: Methodological Predicaments in Late Nineteenth-Century Botany
In the second half of the nineteenth century, botany flourished in Europe and its colonial territories. This was particularly true for those subfields that tried to explain plant morphology and inner processes of plants, as well as the relationship of forms and functions to each other. Botanists took care to base their claims on both experiments and observations, and they fostered lively methodological reflections, not least in order to distinguish themselves sharply from the earlier tradition of idealistic morphology. The paper reconstructs some of the most prevalent issues in this context, including the question of how to disentangle (and control) the influence of different environmental factors, and how to deal with morphological and other phenomena for which causal explanations could not (yet?) be found. Answers to these questions varied greatly; however, the paper argues that one of the reactions to the latter problem was the invention of a specifically “biological” (as opposed to “physiological”) study of plants