28022 - History of Sciences (1) (LM)

Course Unit Page

Academic Year 2018/2019

Learning outcomes

At the end of the course the student will be familiar texts and topics related to the history of science

Course contents

By the end of the 18th century chemistry is a science with a bad reputation. On the one hand it is still conditioned by its amboigous ties with alchemy and on the other it appeared as a too practical science. The course aims at illustrating the Chemical Revolution in Paris during the second half of the 18th c. After the discovery of gases and Antoine Laurent Lavoisier’s innovative interpretation of their role chemical combinations, the Aristotelian and traditional philosophies of matter are overthrown and a new kind of chemistry is envisaged. At the same time Lavoisier has to cope with the widespread alchemical belief in the transmutation of metals in gold and in the existence of the elixir. These beliefs were shared by both Enlightened philosophers such as Diderot and d’Holbach and the most authoritative members of the Académie des sciences. The course will show how alchemy and the new chemistry coexisted as two legitimate forms of scientific knowledge and how, primarily thanks to Lavoisier, the former was successfully marginalised towards the end of the century. During the first 4-6 lectures I shall illustrate the history of alchemy and the reasons, both cultural and scientific, of its success. I shall then focus on the cultural context behind the conflict between alchemy and chemistry which emerged within Diderot's and d'Alembert's Encyclopédie and, more generally, in the Parisian scientific cummunity. The final part of the course will be devoted to the Chemical revolution and will explain the origin of modern chemistry.On october 23 and 24 there will be two seminars the argument of which will be communicated at the beginning of October. BEGINNING OF THE COURSE SEPTEMBER 24, 2018, aula C, via Zamboni 34, monday, tuesday and wednsday h. 11-13


Francesca Antonelli, Marco Beretta (a cura di), Alchimia e chimica nel Settecento. Antologia di testi (Milano: Editrice Bibliografica, 2018); Marco Beretta, Lavoisier e la rivoluzione chimica (Milano: Le scienze, 1998) (also available on the repostiroy on-line); Francesco Barreca, La scienza che fu. Idee e strumenti di teorie abbandonate (Milano: Editrice Bibliografica, 2017), pp. 61-76.

Those non attending the course must add the following bookGABRIEL-FRANÇOIS VENEL, Chimica (Encyclopédie 1753), traduzione e cura di Ferdinando Abbri (Siena: Università degli Studi di Siena, 2003) (also available on the repositroy on-line).

Bibliography in English might also be provided

Teaching methods

Presentation (in Italian) of the classical texts through powerpoint slides

Assessment methods

The exam consists in an oral interview during which the methodological and critical skills acquired by the student will be evaluated . The student will be invited to discuss the texts covered during the course and  to contextualise them in their historical epoch. The achievement of a systematic knowlege of the issues addressed during the classes and a critical approach to the sources combined with precision of language will be assessed with marks of excellence (28-30). Mechanical and / or mnemonic knowledge of the texts combined with scholastic exposé will be assessed by good marking (23-27); training gaps and  superficial contextualization and knoledge of the texts will be assessed with sufficient markings  (18-22). Lacks of any of the above requirements will lead to a negative marking.

Office hours

See the website of Marco Beretta