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The First Hundred Years of Chemistry at the University of Edinburgh
Thursday 24 October 2013 The Royal Society of Edinburgh 22–26 George Street, Edinburgh
Report of Conference organised by The University of Edinburgh and The Royal Society of Edinburgh
09.15 RSE Welcome Sir John Arbuthnott FMedSci MRIA President, Royal Society of Edinburgh Introduction/Overview Chair: Professor Eleanor Campbell FRS FRSC FInstP CorrFRSE Chair of Chemistry and Head of the School of Chemistry, University of Edinburgh Session 1 09.30 Science in the Athens of the North: The Development of the Sciences in Enlightenment Edinburgh Professor John Henry Director Science Studies, School of Social and Political Science, University of Edinburgh Q&A Leyden Chemistry in Edinburgh: Herman Boerhaave, James Crawford and Andrew Plummer Dr John C Powers Department of History, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, USA Q&A Tea / coffee Session 2 11.25 Chair: Professor Lesley Yellowlees MBE FInstP FRSC FRSE President, Royal Society of Chemistry; Professor of Inorganic Electrochemistry, Vice-Principal and Head of College of Science and Engineering, University of Edinburgh From Plummer to Cullen: Novelty in Cullen’s Chemical Pedagogy Dr Georgette Taylor Department of Science and Technology Studies, University College London Q&A Professors and Students in the Age of the Chemical Revolution John R R Christie Faculty of History, University of Oxford; Associate Fellow, Centre for History of Medicine, University of Warwick; Research Affiliate, HPS Leeds Q&A Lunch
Overview of Afternoon
Chair: Professor Ewan Cameron FRHistS FSAScot Sir William Fraser Professor of Scottish History and Paleography, University of Edinburgh Session 3
How to see a Diagram: Joseph Black and the Visual Anthropology of Chemistry Dr Matthew Daniel Eddy Department of Philosophy and Centre for Humanities Engaging Science and Society, Durham University Q&A The Life and Death of Black’s House (short contribution) Dr Peter Morris Keeper of Research Projects, London’s Science Museum Thomas Charles Hope and the Legacy of Joseph Black Dr Robert G W Anderson FRSE Vice-President of Clare Hall, University of Cambridge Q&A Tea/coffee Session 4
Materia Chemica: Excavation of the Early Chemistry Stores at Old College, University of Edinburgh Mr Tom Addyman Simpson & Brown/Addyman Archaeology Q&A Surviving 18th Century chemical apparatus in the National Museums of Scotland (short contribution) Dr Alison Morrison-Low Principal Curator Science, NMS ‘A Golden Cage, but will the Birds Sing?’: Alexander Crum Brown, William Gregory and Lyon Playfair (short contribution) Dr Andrew Alexander Senior Lecturer in Chemical Physics, University of Edinburgh Panel Discussion and Afterword Chair: Professor Hasok Chang Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge Close of meeting
In 1713, James Crawford was appointed first Professor of Chemistry at Edinburgh University and many distinguished Chair holders followed. This tercentenary conference considered the rise in the public’s curiosity for chemistry; how, exactly one century after Crawford’s appointment, the professor of chemistry was attracting 515 subscribers to his annual course of chemistry. The Scottish Enlightenment meant much more than philosophy, rhetoric and political economy; the reputation of Edinburgh medicine and chemistry teaching was to spread throughout Europe and North America. Large numbers of students travelled from afar to attend the innovative lectures of William Cullen and the brilliant lecture demonstrations of Joseph Black (discoverer of carbon dioxide) later in the century.
Welcome President of the RSE, Sir John Arbuthnott, welcomed guests and emphasised the importance of Edinburgh in the development of the chemical and medical sciences and the contribution that these made to the Scottish Enlightenment. Introduction and Overview Professor Eleanor Campbell, the current holder of the Chair of Chemistry at the University of Edinburgh, added her welcome and spoke of the numerous other activities that had taken place to celebrate the tercentenary of Edinburgh Chemistry. Professor Campbell also pointed out that it was intended that the papers presented would be published.
Session 1 Professor John Henry, Director Science Studies, School of Social and Political Science, University of Edinburgh Science in the Athens of the North: the Development of the Sciences in Enlightenment Edinburgh Professor Henry’s paper provided a context for the contributions which followed through the day. It mainly concentrated on the influence of Sir Isaac Newton and proposed that Newton’s ideas were not so much absorbed passively by the Scottish intellectual world, but that some Scots were the first to be fired by Newtonianism and it was they who were largely responsible for its wider diffusion. Scotland occupied a central place in European culture in the 18th Century. It did not pass unrecognised at the time; the Scottish author Tobias Smollett would write that “Edinburgh is a Hot-bed of Genius,” and the King’s Chemist, John Amyat, report “Here I stand at what is called the Cross of Edinburgh and can in a few minutes take 50 men of genius and learning by the hand”. Newtonianism in Scotland became the cause of the rise of the natural sciences, following on from the Scientific Revolution. It was David Gregory, Professor of Mathematics at Edinburgh, who sent Newton a copy of his paper on infinite series, and thereafter Newton became his patron, supporting him for the Savilian Chair of Astronomy at Oxford. A pupil of Gregory’s in Edinburgh, John Keill, followed a similar trajectory: he went on to Balliol College and ultimately succeeded to the Savilian professorship. He too was a vociferous supporter of Newton, especially in his priority issue with Leibniz concerning the calculus. Another mathematician and Edinburgh professor of great European influence, Colin Maclaurin, was the leading Newtonian in Britain and his career provides further proof that Scotland was anything but a backwater in 18th-Century intellectual terms. Another important figure in the developing academic world of Scottish science was the contentious Archibald Pitcairne, an iatromechanician who developed medical ideas on
Newtonian principles. Pitcairne spent only a short time teaching at Leiden University in the Netherlands, but it was long enough for him to influence the young physician Hermann Boerhaave (who in turn would be a key figure in the education of the young men sent to study in Leiden who had been hand-picked as those who would form the first medical faculty in Edinburgh in 1726). Professor Henry then turned to David Hume and showed that Hume’s Science of Man was part of a wider movement to apply Newtonian methods to the moral sciences. Moral Newtonianism became a major feature of the Scottish Enlightenment and subsequently became influential throughout Europe. Further scientific figures were then discussed. Professor Henry suggested that James Hutton developed his geology on Newtonian principles, and Hutton’s influence on the new science, with the theory of the origins of the Earth, was immense. Lavoisier, another Newtonian, had his new chemistry adopted by Scotland; the Traité Eleméntaire de Chimie was first translated into English and published in Edinburgh just one year after its original appearance in 1789. It became widely diffused because of the magnetic draw of the Edinburgh Medical School, giving it a central role in European and American chemistry teaching. Though Priestley would never adopt Lavoisier’s new chemistry, both men were committed Newtonians. Newton was without doubt a major force in Scotland. It was the authoritative Sir Isaiah Berlin who made the claim that it was Newton who was the strongest single influence on the European Enlightenment and, by showing that Newtonianism was first disseminated from Scotland, and Edinburgh in particular, Professor Henry brought out the importance of Edinbugh in 18th-Century intellectual history.
Dr John C Powers, Department of History, Virginia Commonwealth University Leyden Chemistry in Edinburgh: Hermann Boerhaave, James Crawford and Andrew Plummer Dr Powers first pointed out the extremely important fact that all five members of the newlyestablished Edinburgh medical faculty of 1726 had studied under Hermann Boerhaave in Leiden in the 1710s and 1720s. They were the first students in Europe to come under his influence. Even earlier, from 1690 to 1693, the Scotsman Archibald Pitcairne had taught at Leiden and it is presumed that the two men must have known each other (though there is no evidence). This leads to an obvious question: how much did Boerhaave subsequently shape the teaching of chemistry in Edinburgh? Leiden itself was well set-up to develop the science; there was a botanic garden, and a laboratory was provided from as early as 1667 for Carel De Maets. English and Scottish chemists went to its University to study medicine and science, in part for the subjects’ utility. One of them, Peter Shaw, declared “Chemistry, by appropriate experience, produces useful effects”. However, Leiden did not simply teach practical subjects; natural philosophy also thrived. One of Boerhaave’s achievements was to integrate chemistry into the medical course from1702, when he was first allowed to teach (but not yet as professor). Prior to this, chemistry was seen simply as an apothecary’s tool. He developed his innovative syllabus, starting with the history of chemistry, then going on to deal with the theory of chemistry, followed by chemical practice. This was in sharp contrast to earlier courses. Nicholas Lemery’s textbook of 950 pages, Cours de Chymie, includes 60–70 pages on theory and 20– 30pages on practice. The other 850–870pages deal with the operations of chemistry, that is, preparations of drugs. It was not Lemery, then, who was the major influence on Boerhaave, but Johannes Bohn of Leipzig. Bohn, in turn had been influenced by Robert Boyle. Bohn had rejected the prevalent
acid–alkali theory of disease. He had agreed that chemical principles don’t exist, but that ‘chemical instruments’ do. These – fire, air, water, earth, and chemical menstrua – are not constituents of matter, but are chemical tools. For example, air does not combine with anything, but it is important for combination to take place. The instruments shift the idea from considering matter as principles towards offering an explanation of mechanisms of operations. It was this kind of argument which would have influenced the Edinburgh students. James Crawford, the first Edinburgh Professor of Chemistry, appointed in 1713, was himself in Leiden, but only for five weeks, and at the time of year when student teaching had come to an end. However, the small amount of surviving evidence of Crawford’s subsequent teaching indicates that he had at some point absorbed Boerhaave’s pedagogical method, though he was not a sycophantic follower of Boerhaave, and he adjusted his teaching to Edinburgh’s context. The first chemistry teacher who operated within the medical faculty, Andrew Plummer, certainly did learn his chemistry from Boerhaave, though there is uncertainty about the content of what he went on to teach. (Some key manuscripts, which were known to exist in libraries until quite recently, have now gone missing, which sadly limits what can be found out about the courses.) What is clear is that while Boerhaave, as the most celebrated chemistry teacher in Europe, did have a strong influence on Edinburgh, the Scots went on to develop their own form and content of teaching. Session 2 Professor Lesley Yellowlees, President, Royal Society of Chemistry; Professor of Inorganic Electrochemistry, Vice-Principal and Head of College of Science and Engineering, University of Edinburgh, chaired the second session.
Dr Georgette Taylor, Department of Science and Technology Studies, University College London From Plummer to Cullen: Novelty in Cullen’s Chemical Pedagogy The transition between Andrew Plummer and William Cullen as holders of the Edinburgh Chair in Chemistry seems to have been a tricky affair, politically. However, once accomplished, contemporaries seem to have been broadly agreed that Cullen's teaching changed chemistry in Edinburgh vastly for the better. Modern historians have taken the same view. Is it possible, however, that the somewhat bruising politics of the changeover may have coloured the contemporary view of the pedagogy? Cullen, of course, was something of a celebrity, and his status was only enhanced by the later publication of Thomas Thomson’s hagiography. But although the oft-cited comment of Joseph Black on Plummer’s chemical pedagogy (“you need not be anxious, provided your course be better than Plummer’s which it is impossible for it not to be.” [Black to Cullen, Edinburgh, 22 November 1755]) may well be the view that historians are most familiar with, is it fair to take Black’s possibly partisan opinion as posterity’s view of Plummer’s chemistry teaching? The original aim of the talk was to look, as far as possible, at Plummer's and Cullen's teaching of chemistry, as compared with each other and with contemporaries in England and Europe, and to seek to clarify what (if anything) was so new and improved about Cullen's teaching, and whether this apparent novelty was unique to his pedagogy at the time. The comparison is somewhat hindered, however, by the relative paucity of information we have about Plummer’s chemistry lectures. Historians are limited by their sources, and in this regard, records of Cullen’s teaching at Edinburgh and Glasgow Universities, while not precisely copious, do vastly outweigh any information we have about Plummer’s. This, in itself, might be felt to be suggestive, particularly given that Cullen in fact taught chemistry
over a rather shorter time frame than the period of Plummer’s chemistry lecturing at Edinburgh (less than 20 years as compared with almost 30). Similarly, it appears that Plummer taught only chemistry, while Cullen’s reputation was only enhanced by his teaching of a variety of other courses besides chemistry. Confronting the difficult task of comparing a pedagogical method about which we know a remarkable amount (although there are still plenty of questions left unanswered), with one about which we know very little, the paper took an historiographical tangent, discussing the kinds of sources available to us, including the problems of missing archive material, and considering how we should approach these sources. Dr Taylor sought to demonstrate how much the careful historian can glean from sometimes quite meagre source material and, at the same time, just where the limits of justified historical speculation might lie. In comparing the methods and content of Plummer's and Cullen's chemistry courses, our sources point to much in Cullen's method and in the content of his course that we can claim as novel, while what little information we do have on Plummer's lectures suggests that they were competent, but relatively unoriginal. Perhaps the most important conclusions to be draw, however, are that for the historian, one discovery always leads to 20 new questions, and however much we may think we know, even about Cullen's teaching, in reality, the limitations of our source material mean that we have barely scratched the surface.
John R R Christie, Faculty of History, University of Oxford; Associate Fellow, Centre for History of Medicine, University of Warwick; Research Affiliate, HPS Leeds Professors and Students in the Age of the Chemical Revolution This paper examined chemistry at the University of Edinburgh in the pivotal decades of the 1770s and 1780s, the years of revolution in chemical practice and thought associated with Antoine Lavoisier and his colleagues, whose work was eventually to effect fundamental changes in chemical science, to do particularly with combustion, calcination, respiration and acidification, but also and more generally with chemical composition, nomenclature and practical investigative methods. The introduction presented statistics on rising numbers of chemistry students, and on their chemical writings as recorded in student society records and graduation theses. The paper then argued firstly that these years, years that is of Joseph Black’s professorship, were as remarkable for the tenacious defence and aggressive expansion of phlogistic science as they were for the relatively quick adoption of Lavoisian theory and practice which simultaneously occurred. Edinburgh phlogistonism included Black’s early addition of a negative weight hypothesis for phlogiston, and proceeded to colonise both physiology, with theories of Animal Heat, and aspects of the Natural Philosophy course taught by John Robison. The construction of chemicalised physiologies produced notable examples, including the works on Animal Heat published by former students Patrick Dugud Leslie and Adair Crawford. In expanding on these contentions, the paper also examined a largely neglected topic; the role of the reception of Joseph Priestley’s chemistry in Edinburgh, especially his phlogistic account of respiration, and drew attention particularly to the metrological issues in play (volumetrics, gravimetrics, thermometrics). Pursuit of these historical materials brought us into immediate contact with an underexamined yet extensive sphere of scientific practice in the University. It is the case that many, indeed most of the key source materials which inform us of Edinburgh chem istry’s development in the 1770s and 1780s are derived from students matriculated or otherwise enrolled for the classes held annually by the Medical Faculty, including of course Black’s lectures on chemistry. From the mid-‘70s, student numbers were rising, and continued to rise, very steeply indeed, by an overall factor of around 2.5 across Black’s three-decade tenure. The paper argued secondly that this student sector is deeply misconceived if regarded as a docile set of learners. They were, rather, active enquirers, possessing their own institutions: a Chemical Society, some of whose members initiated the positive
reception of Lavoisier in Edinburgh in the mid-1780s; a Natural History Society; and several medical societies, including, pre-eminently, the Royal Medical Society, the first scientific society in Scotland to receive a Royal Charter, and possessed of both an Experimental Committee and a laboratory. The paper argued thirdly that student science came to be conducted within an identifiably particular and thoroughly institutionalised ethos, simultaneously emulative, agonistic and critical with respect to their professors. Understanding of this ethos helps serve to explain the pace, course and nature of innovative development in Edinburgh chemistry and medicine in this period, in both its phlogistic and Lavoisian modes. When Joseph Black told Lavoisier that the University of Edinburgh was a place ‘where the students enjoy the most perfect liberty in chuseing their philosophical opinions’, we might commend his understatement, yet also think he was only telling the half of it.
Session 3 Professor Ewan Cameron Sir William Fraser Professor of Scottish History and Palaeography, University of Edinburgh, provided an overview of the Session.
Dr Matthew Daniel Eddy, Department of Philosophy and Centre for Humanities Engaging Science and Society, Durham University How to see a Diagram: Joseph Black and the Visual Anthropology of Chemistry Dr Eddy began his paper with an overview of the historical and conceptual importance of diagrams in transmitting chemical knowledge. In his forthcoming book, The Patchwork Picture, Dr Eddy considers how early modern students, particularly in Enlightenment Scotland, learned the forms, skills and routines that in later life transformed into an ability to describe the natural world on paper. In this setting, Joseph Black’s diagrams were used to convey chemical attraction between substances. During the early 18th Century, the most well-known example of chemical diagrammatic representation was Geoffroy's chemical affinity table of 1718. By the mid-18th Century, the use of images and tables was widely promoted in Scottish pedagogy. Diagrams served as information management devices. Dr Eddy underscored the value in treating these graphic images as “knowledge-making artefacts”, a viewpoint in line with current thinking in other fields such as anthropology, art history and psychology. He emphasised that, within teaching contexts, the form and meaning of chemical images were closely related. On considering Black’s diagrams, Dr Eddy posited that the images gained meaning and significance through their use; as the images pass through the notes taken and circulated by students and professors. The dominant chemical ideology of the time was that some substances had stronger attraction for other substances. These affinities were classed as single or double, according to the competing attractions in mixtures of substances. Black used three different diagrams, with three different shapes, to represent various aspects of affinity. Single elective affinity was described as a square table; double affinity was described in a circlet diagram; and a chiastic diagram described the ratio of attractions between substances. Black’s diagrams were the visual system underpinning the theory of his chemistry. Dr Eddy went on to consider various aspects of Black’s system of diagrams in r elation to two kinds of relationships being learned by the students when they used the diagrams: (i) Time and Usage. Black’s diagrams were atemporal. The diagrams illustrate chemical reactions at a glance, no matter the time frame over which they occur. The diagrams also removed the sense of time since the discovery of certain combinations. Charles Blagden,
a famous student of Black’s, struggled on his first attempt to draw circlet diagrams in his notebook; he opted later to use squares. Skill and practice was required to create and use such diagrams. Black also adapted the diagrams over time, to include new chemical developments. Black incorporated chemical operations through figures of experimental apparatus, and would refer to these while narrating procedure. (ii) Space and Structure. By comparison to other affinity tables of the period, Black’s affinity tables were horizontal rather than vertical, being more natural to read. He also grouped similar affinities by themes in a manner so as to make them more accessible to novice students. Black also devised a method of preventing student overload of information by clearly segmenting his tables. This is seen most clearly in a 1782 copy of the notes of Black’s held by the Royal Society in London, which shows a set of “micro-tables”, more easily inscribable and accessible. The micro-tables were also easier to augment and update. Affinity tables by other teachers, e.g., Bergman, were primarily designed for the expert, but Black’s was crafted with the student in mind. Dr Eddy summarised his paper by saying that Black’s diagrams were innovative. They were practical learning tools, designed to be accessible and useful to students. The diagrams reveal that the act of learning chemical knowledge was intimately linked to how the information was visualised. Dr Peter Morris, Keeper of Research Projects, London’s Science Museum The Life and Death of Black’s House Dr Morris opened his contribution with a summary of the location of the houses that had been occupied by Joseph Black during his tenure as Chair of Chemistry from 1766 to 1799. In 1781, Black moved to a house in Nicholson Street, built by James MacPherson. It was a substantial property, with three floors and garrets, and four vaulted cellars. There has been some controversy and confusion over the precise location of Black’s house. In James Grant’s Edinburgh Old and New (published 1880), Black’s house is identified as being occupied by the (male) Asylum for the Industrious Blind; the accompanying engraving putting this in the middle of the block bounded by Hill Place and Richmond Street. Analysis of the street addresses had suggested that Black’s house may be a period property still standing at 46 Nicolson Street. Records indicate that the house had been taken over in 1822 by the Edinburgh Savings Bank, who then sold it to the Asylum for the Industrious Blind, who set up a female asylum. Thus, at some point, the history of the house had been confused with the male Asylum. Black’s house stood at what is now the corner of Hill Place and Nicolson Street. The earliest view is from an illustration on a report from the Directors of the Asylum (1866). From 1875, it had been variously used as a bank, warehousing and stores. Between 1933 and 1973 it was one of the chain of Alexander’s department stores. From 1973, it was derelict, until renovation in 1981 by Charles McKinlay, who turned it into an Italian restaurant and disco. Sadly, on Sunday 14th November 1982, a fire broke out (believed to have been caused by a discarded cigarette). The building was declared unsafe, and was demolished on the Tuesday. The modern site is now occupied by a block comprising accommodation, a fast-food outlet and a convenience store. Dr Morris showed a number of photographs of the house from the period 1960–82. Did anyone know this was Black’s house? Could the University have taken it over in 1973? In any case, the mystery of the exact location of Black’s house can now be laid to rest.
Dr Robert G W Anderson, Clare Hall, University of Cambridge Thomas Charles Hope and the Legacy of Joseph Black Thomas Charles Hope was created joint Professor of Medicine and Chemistry with Joseph Black in 1795 and he succeeded him on the latter’s death in 1799. He went on to teach in Edinburgh up to and including the 1842–43 Session, resigning rather suddenly. Taking account of his earlier Glasgow appointment, from 1787, Hope taught 55 annual courses of chemistry (of about 130 lectures) and had more than 16,000 students attend them. Black had started at Glasgow in 1756, so together they spanned nearly 90 years of chemistry teaching. Their styles were somewhat different; Black was renowned as being an inspirational teacher, while Hope was said to be dull and pompous. The paper considered similarities in teaching (and other aspects) of the two men and it examined whether Hope’s poor reputation was justified. Black was born into the family of Ulster expatriates who were merchants operating in Bordeaux. None of his family had worked in a profession or had been to university. His background contrasts with Hope’s, whose father was Professor of Botany at Edinburgh. Black was sent to Glasgow University, though he transferred to Edinburgh to complete his MD degree. Hope was at Edinburgh throughout. Both men’s careers started with a lectureship in chemistry at Glasgow; Black’s in 1756 and Hope’s in 1787. Both had hoped to gain the Edinburgh Chair shortly after graduation, but neither did; both were successful second time round. Both men did their only fundamental research early on in their careers; Black identifying the properties of fixed air (carbon dioxide) and developing the concept of latent heat. Hope studied a hitherto unknown ‘earth’ and was one of those who declared it to be a compound of a new element, strontium; he also devised an apparatus to measure the temperature at which water attains its maximum density. After taking up the Edinburgh Chair, Black immersed himself in problems concerning the development of chemically-based Scottish industry. Hope did practically no research for 30 years, finishing with a minor flourish of experiments on organic natural products. But was Hope dull and was he lazy? Examination of the evidence challenges both previously-held assumptions. His class grew to a huge size – 559 students registered for his 1823–24 course. This was at about the time that Charles Darwin attended the Medical School, and he wrote: “The instruction at Edinburgh was altogether by lectures, and these were intolerably dull, with the exception of those on chemistry by Hope.” Hope’s lecture demonstrations were highly praised – the 1800–01 courses included 462 experiments. It is clear from the notes from which he was teaching that Hope was continually updating his lectures, right up to his final year. His knowledge of contemporary developments cannot be doubted – he met Lavoisier in Paris in 1788 and is said to have been the first British professor to teach the new oxygen theory to his students. He was teaching Dalton’s 1807 atomic theory by 1809. Numbers of those registering did fall off towards the end of his career, but the number of students who would graduate in medicine did not. It is suggested that the public’s taste for chemistry declined towards mid-century, and it is this which explains the reduction. Hope’s two courses of popular lectures in the 1820s, geared to the layman, were certainly a success. Hope had one particular blind spot – the teaching of practical chemistry. There was pressure on him for students to perform their own experiments, so Hope got others to carry out laboratory-based teaching for him. He treated these demonstrators badly and there were rows. He opposed the introduction of a Chair of Practical Chemistry and won the case. In the end, he gave up offering a course and students had to find extra-mural alternatives. Meanwhile, Germany was developing teaching laboratories and British students went abroad for this kind of education. Hope’s intransigence contributed to the decline of Edinburgh as a world leader in chemistry education.
Towards the end of his life, Hope told a colleague that there were two kinds of chemistry teachers – those who push forwards the boundaries of knowledge by research and those whose main preoccupation is the instruction of students, He and Black were of the latter persuasion, he declared. Perhaps he didn’t know of Black’s continuing researches from 1766 to the 1790s – but perhaps he didn’t want to know. Session 4 Mr Tom Addyman, Simpson & Brown/Addyman Archaeology Materia Chemica: Excavation of the Early Chemistry Stores at Old College, University of Edinburgh During recent renovations, the Old College Quadrangle of the University was the subject of archaeological excavations resulting from the planning process. Mr Addyman set the scene for his discussion by locating the Quad as part of the ancient Kirk o’ Field site, where Lord Darnley was murdered in 1567. The 1647 map by Gordon of Rothiemay illustrates the Tounis College over-enthusiastically as perfect quadrangles. In 1767, the group of buildings was surveyed by John Laurie; this plan proved to be very accurate and guided the archaeological work. It was also known that Playfair had substantially lowered the level of the quad, so the north side was the most likely to contain surviving artefacts. The initial work revealed the mediaeval cemetery, including some 60 inhumations. In 2010, an evaluation trench in the area of the 1642 Library Building revealed a number of chemicals and glass tubing. Expert evaluation of the material suggested late-18th-century glassware, of tremendous historical importance to chemistry. The area of the chemistry finds was therefore subjected to more extensive excavation. The 1642 Library was remodelled around 1780–82, and an additional storey was added. Mr Addyman described the academic ‘turf war’ for this new space between John Walker (Professor of Natural History) and Joseph Black (Professor of Chemistry). Black lost the battle and, around 1782, was eventually allocated some space in the Printing House Yards to the north, a full storey lower than the main quadrangle (i.e., level with the basement of the 1642 Library). The second excavations targeted the basement of the 1642 Library, which had apparently been knocked in on itself during the preparations for the present College buildings (1820). Part of the cellar was found, with numerous artefacts including chemical residues, broken glass and intact vessels. The rooms showed evidence of shelving and fixtures against the wall. The groupings of finds suggested that the materials may have been left intact on shelves when the building was destroyed. Mr Addyman then displayed photographs of some of the finds: numerous small crucibles; a zinc-lined iron container; and various glass objects. Mr Addyman was anxious to point out that only a small part of the probable store had been excavated by his team at this time. Some finds are still undergoing conservation, and their exact purpose is not clear. The objects are certainly older than 1820, when the building was demolished, and are probably earlier. Conservation of objects has been hindered by the presence of chemicals on surfaces. Surface X-ray fluorescence analysis was used to determine the chemical identities prior to cleaning. Glass objects were found made of various qualities of glass, from olivegreen bottle glass to refined soda glass. The green glass is typical of the type being made at the Leith glassworks by Alexander Geddes, an associate of Joseph Black. The glass artefacts have many similarities to those in the Playfair collection in the National Museum of Scotland. Amongst ceramic materials found are items that are believed to have been made by Josiah Wedgwood, who would send wares out to colleagues for testing. One of the objects shown was similar in shape to an alembic, but has never been seen before. A number of mercury jars made from hard stoneware, probably from London were also found. The numerous crucibles included Hessian triangular crucibles, and many of the crucibles
showed smelting activity. Several artefacts are unique, and so it is not clear what their purpose was. The classification of finds is still on-going. Surrounding soil samples have also been analysed, and show substantial levels of mercury, arsenic and cobalt. In the lower part of the cellar area, small samples of Founders Type were discovered – in 1757, Messrs Hamilton and Balfour petitioned the city to setup a press within the basement. In total, the finds represent a remarkable and unique window on chemistry in the period 1780–1820.
Dr Alison Morrison-Low, Principal Curator Science, National Museums Scotland Surviving 18th-Century Chemical Apparatus in the National Museums of Scotland Dr Morrison-Low, started by explaining how the National Museum of Scotland came into being. The first foundation was The Industrial Museum of Scotland (1854) whence most of the historic industrial collections in the present National Museum derive. The first Director of the Industrial Museum was Dr George Wilson, who was also appointed the first and only Regius Professor of Technology in the University of Edinburgh. In 1858, Lyon Playfair presented Wilson with most of the University’s historic chemical apparatus and this has been well documented in Robert Anderson’s catalogue of the Playfair Collection; this collection is one of the very few with surviving early chemical material that has retained its provenance, but unlike other 18th-Century chemistry collections, such as Lavoisier’s at Paris, the quality of craftsmanship is of a humbler standard. Wilson and Playfair were both chemists and probably met at Edinburgh; both then went on to become assistants to Thomas Graham, Professor of Chemistry at University College London. There are some 75 items in the Playfair Collection associated with some of the early professors of chemistry at Edinburgh, namely Joseph Black, Thomas Charles Hope and William Gregory. The latter, a scion of a famous Scottish scientific family, had rather dubious enthusiasms for phrenology and mesmerism, and one the instruments connected with this enthusiasm, the tetragrammaton, is part of the collection. Some of the more iconic pieces in the collection include Joseph Black’s balance, an early 17th-Century Hauksbee-type air pump (one of only eight known to survive) and some 22 pieces of laboratory glass ware. This glass ware has been important in deciphering the shards of glass discovered during the excavations in Old College by Tom Addyman and his team. There was a strong connection between Black and the Leith glass works through his friendship with Archibald Geddes. The latter had attended Black’s lectures (1778/79 and 1779/80) and subsequently became owner of the Edinburgh Glasshouse Company of Leith. Black made a loan of £500 to the Company to make improvements and became a director. The Leith glass trade was flourishing at that time and at its peak, about one million bottles were produced per week, mainly for the wine trade. In addition, more sophisticated glass, for instance flint and crown glass, was produced, together with articles such as glass apparatus for impregnating water with 'fixed air' (Joseph Black’s term for carbon dioxide); this made possible the domestic production of 'spa water' and the apparatus was commercially very successful. Black had also become a friend of Josiah Wedgwood, having taught his son at Edinburgh, and the final items in the collection, described by Dr Morrison-Low, were the famous pyrometer, a copy of the Portland vase and a vase of blue jasperware made by Wedgwood at his Etruria Works in Staffordshire.
Dr Andrew Alexander, Senior Lecturer in Chemical Physics, University of Edinburgh ‘A Golden Cage, but will the Birds Sing?’: Alexander Crum Brown, William Gregory and Lyon Playfair Dr Alexander provided a summary of the events of the 19th Century that built on the success of the first hundred years of Chemistry in the University. Thomas Charles Hope’s notes of the Session 1842–43 reveal: “I was very much pushed in the latter part of this course, & had to abridge valuable material”. He also considered that for the following Session, he would abridge material on heat “which occupies too much of the course”. As it happened, Hope quit and was dead by June 1844. Thomas Stewart Traill lectured in the intervening year, before the appointment of William Gregory in 1844. Gregory represented the first of a series of Professors who had been educated in Germany, and he brought the methods of the great Justus von Liebig, whose works he translated for an English audience. Gregory wrote several influential texts of his own, and it is noteworthy that he did not include heat to any great extent in his teaching. Gregory was an organic chemist; he was already noted for his 1831 work on the purification of morphine hydrochloride. The pharmacists of Edinburgh were quick to exploit his methods, but it was not until 1853, with the first use of a syringe, that the true significance of purification was recognised. Gregory was later instrumental in making improvements to the purity of chloroform. Gregory’s darker side contained an obsession with pseudoscience, including phrenology and clairvoyance. As a lecturer, he was cool and calmheaded: an observer noted that Gregory was able to continue lecturing, despite having seriously injured his eye through an explosive demonstration. Dr Alexander considered the tenure of Lyon Playfair (Chair of Chemistry 1858–69), focusing on the tragic story of Archibald Scott Couper. In 1858, Couper had independently discovered the tetravalance of carbon, but due to the inaction of his boss (Wurtz, Paris) the idea was published just after Kekule. Argument ensued; Couper was fired. Playfair hired him as a Laboratory assistant in January 1859, but by May of that year, Couper had been committed to an insane asylum. Recent research has successfully traced living relatives of Couper, but there are no surviving documents. Medical notes from Gartnavel Hospital reveal that Couper suffered from schizophrenia, possibly exacerbated by the events in Paris. In his final section, Dr Alexander considered Alexander Crum Brown (Chair of Chemistry 1869–1908), focusing on Brown’s influence on the chemistry in the Sherlock Holmes detective stories. Arthur Conan Doyle studied medicine in Edinburgh, and attended 100 of Brown’s lectures on chemistry in the Session 1876–77. Research carried out this year has revealed that Brown was close friends with Dr Joseph Bell, the acknowledged influence for the deductive side of Holmes. The chemistry in the Holmes stories was compared to student lecture notes taken down in Brown’s class. The conclusion was that 60% of the chemistry was contained in the lectures, and the remainder – mostly on poisons – would very probably been influenced by Brown’s 1868 work with Thomas Fraser on the effect of chemical constitution on the physiological action of alkaloid drugs.
Panel Discussion and Afterword Chair: Professor Hasok Chang, Hans Rausing Professor of the History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge Professor Chang invited all ten speakers to the stage for a Panel Discussion. The discussion was wide ranging and covered most of the presentations delivered during the day. Following the Panel Discussion, he added some of his own remarks to draw the conference to a close. He asked two fundamental questions: ‘What enabled the flourishing of chemistry in Edinburgh in the Enlightenment?’ ‘Was there something distinctive about Scottish chemistry, or Edinburgh chemistry?, Both of these can be answered by reference to the most important aspect: teaching. Compared with elsewhere, it was taken extremely seriously. Oxford and Cambridge had little important chemistry over the period and neither was caught up in the Enlightenment fever of the times. London University did not exist until the end of the period being discussed, and no other English university was founded until after that. He then considered the effect of direct payment of student course fees to the professors, who on the whole were unsalaried, which he felt stimulated the development of exciting programmes of lecture demonstrations and effective visualisation aids (which Matthew Eddy has been studying). Similar approaches were being used at the Royal Institution by 1800, but this was not a university setting. There was not a great stimulus to have students conduct their own experiments and it was to Germany that they were lured. Little had been said during the course of the day about research. Professor Chang asked the question ‘Did research benefit from teaching?’ On the whole ‘no’, he said, but why then, were there exceptions when it came to Black and, to a lesser extent, Cullen? It is difficult to find out about Black’s research, as he published so very little. We have no easy way of ascertaining what unpublished research was being carried out, although there may now be glimpses seen through the archaeological work conducted by Tom Addyman and his colleagues in the Old College. It is interesting that Thomas Thomson became one of the more research-active Scottish professors, perhaps because earlier he had worked in the different cultural atmosphere of London. Attention was then drawn to the larger philosophical and political contexts, which at the time were correlated. He asked whether Newtonianism (discussed by John Henry) was a widely shared ideology, or merely lip-service. His view is that everyone was Newtonian only by selfprofession. That was not a peculiarity of the Scottish intelligentsia, but was a general characteristic of the Enlightenment. In any case, what exactly is Newtonian chemistry? He then referred to anti-authoritarian empiricism: the real contribution of Edinburgh came through positivistic affinity theory and pneumatic chemistry. John Christie talked about the operational reality of phlogiston in Priestleian eudiometry, phlogistic economy of nature, etc and this, Hasok Chang argued, was the lasting element of Edinburgh tradition; more Boerhaave than Newton. This was consonant with the active, independent views offered by students, considered by Georgette Taylor. Hasok Chang then drew his remarks to a close, but not before asking: ‘why should a working scientist pay attention to all this history?’ ‘What is to be gained: curiosity and amusement, or a sense of heritage and context?’ He suggested that different kinds of teaching might bring different kinds of learning. Also, that science in the past was successfully organised in many different kinds of ways, with a variety of conceptual and practical themes. He concluded that history tells us what can be done, “History opens minds”. Finally, he remarked on Sir John Arbuthnott’s comments at the very beginning of the day: a new Scottish Enlightenment may indeed be able to draw inspiration from the original one.
Conference Organising Committee
Dr Robert Anderson FRSE Vice-President of Clare Hall, University of Cambridge Professor Eleanor Campbell FRS CorrFRSE FRSC FInstP Head of School of Chemistry, University of Edinburgh Professor Robert Donovan OBE FRSE FRSC School of Chemistry, University of Edinburgh
The Royal Society of Edinburgh and The University of Edinburgh Chemistry Department wish to acknowledge the support of: The Society for the History of Alchemy and Chemistry The Alembic Club Bruker UCB Infineon
Rapporteurs: Dr R G W Anderson, Dr A Alexander and Professor R J Donovan. © The Royal Society of Edinburgh: October 2013 ISBN: 978 0 902198 22 7 Requests to reproduce all or part of this document should be submitted to: The Royal Society of Edinburgh 22–26 George Street EDINBURGH EH2 2PQ Tel: 0044 (0)131 240 5000
Opinions expressed in this report do not necessarily represent the view of The Royal Society of Edinburgh, nor its Fellows
The Royal Society of Edinburgh, Scotland’s National Academy, is Scottish Charity No. SC000470 16
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