, Volume 2, Issue 1, pp 47-73

In Search of the Chemical Revolution: Interpretive Strategies in the History of Chemistry

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Abstract

In recent years the Chemical Revolution has become a renewed focus of interest among historians of science. This interest isshaped by interpretive strategies associated with the emergence anddevelopment of the discipline of the history of science. The disciplineoccupies a contested intellectual terrain formed in part by thedevelopment and cultural entanglements of science itself. Threestages in this development are analyzed in this paper. Theinterpretive strategies that characterized each stage are elucidatedand traced to the disciplinary interests that gave rise to them. Whilepositivists and whigs appropriated the history of science to thejustificatory and celebratory needs of science itself, postpositivistslinked it to philosophical models of rationality, and sociologists ofknowledge sought its sociological reconstruction. Since none of thesestrategies do justice to the complexity of historical events, a modelof the Chemical Revolution is outlined which upholds the autonomyand specificity of history and the methods used to study it.