Vol. 7 No. 1 (2023)
Book Reviews

Review of A Cultural History of Chemistry. Peter J. T. Morris and Alan Rocke, eds., Bloomsbury Academic: London, 2022

Robert H. Crabtree
Department of Chemistry, Yale University, New Haven CT 06520 USA
Arthur Greenberg
Department of Chemistry, University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH 03824 USA
Seth C. Rasmussen
Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, North Dakota State University, Fargo, ND 58108 USA

Published 2023-02-08

How to Cite

Crabtree, R. H., Greenberg, A., & Rasmussen, S. C. (2023). Review of A Cultural History of Chemistry. Peter J. T. Morris and Alan Rocke, eds., Bloomsbury Academic: London, 2022. Substantia, 7(1), 113–119. https://doi.org/10.36253/Substantia-2039


When presented with a new multivolume series on the history of chemistry, one cannot help but compare it to J. R. Partington's masterful four-volume A History of Chemistry. The new six-volume A Cultural History of Chemistry reviewed here, however, is really a different beast and should not be viewed as a simple attempt to update Partington's previous series. As highlighted by series editors Peter Morris and Alan Rocke in the Series Preface that begins each volume, "This is not a conventional history of chemistry, but a first attempt at creating a cultural history of the science." As such, this series brings together 50 contributors in an effort to present the first detailed and authoritative survey of the impact of chemistry on society, as well as how society has influenced and impacted chemical practice and thought. Spanning from the earliest applications of the chemical arts in antiquity up through the present, this cultural history is split into six volumes, each covering a specific time period, with the structure of each volume consistent throughout the series. As such, each volume begins with an introduction, followed by the identical chapter titles: Theory and Concepts; Practice and Experiment; Sites and Technology; Culture and Knowledge; Society and Environment; Trade and Industry; Learning and Institutions; Art and Representation. As a result, this gives the reader the choice of focusing on a specific time period within a single volume, or following a chosen theme across history by reading the corresponding chapter in each of the six volumes. Each volume concludes with both a Bibliography and an Index, with all six volumes providing a combined 1728 pages of material. Separate reviews for each of the six volumes are given below, followed by some concluding remarks about the overall six-volume effort.