In my current research, The Weight of Things, I am writing a non-canonical, non-disciplinary history of experimentation on the weight of substances in pre- and early modern Europe. The Weight of Things brings back to life an intricate network of pure and applied disciplines, ranging from natural philosophy and numismatics to gunnery and artillery. This new multidisciplinary perspective shows that testing on the weight of substances became a major concern for a heterogeneous group of European early modern experts, including antiquarians, alchemists, Jesuits, instrument makers and natural philosophers. This project has been awarded a 3-year grant from the DFG (German Research Foundation) (budget 294,000 Euro, period 2017-2020). From 2016, I received funding to develop specific aspects of this research from the Scientific Instruments Society, the Gerda Henkel Stiftung, the Vossius Center for History of Humanities and Sciences at the University of Amsterdam, the Huntington Library and the Deutsches Museum.
I am also writing a book on Francis Bacon’s interests in alchemy. Notwithstanding his often scathing remarks toward alchemists, scholars have long acknowledged a crucial role for alchemical ideas in Bacon’s thought and works. However, no study has ever closely analyzed Bacon’s wide debt to medieval and early modern alchemical authors and practitioners. In my research, I adopt the broader, multifaceted view of alchemy championed by the ‘new historiography,’ and by scholars like William Newman, Lawrence Principe and Tara Nummedal. Alchemy–and chymistry, its seventeenth-century incarnation–included a broad range of activities from theory to practice, well beyond the issue of metal transmutation. This variety is well reflected in Bacon’s own chymical interests, which spanned the medieval alchemical theories on the composition of metals and matter, early modern Paracelsianism, assaying, mining and entrepreneurial alchemy, and iatrochemistry.