CHEMICAL REACTIONS: Chemistry and Global History

International Conference April 10-12, 2014
2014 Cain Conference, Chemical Heritage Foundation, Philadelphia
Call for Papers

Conference Focus
One of the most important developments in the history of science and technology
in recent years has been the recognition that, far from being an essentially
western history, it can best be understood and analyzed in the broader context
of global history. This is not a call to investigate 'influence' or to compare
the 'achievements' of 'the West and the Rest', but to consider how globally
spread interactions and networks of commercial and cultural exchange both
depended on and fed scientific and technological investigation and development.
Such an approach has proven extremely fruitful in the history of medicine,
natural history (botany, etc.), astronomy, cartography and geography.
Surprisingly, the history of chemistry has yet to be analytically integrated
with global history in a sustained and organized way. This conference and
subsequent edited volume are a first step in that direction.

For the purposes of this conference, the term 'chemistry' should not be
considered in a scientifically narrow, discipline-bound way. Rather, we are
interested to include examinations of knowledge-claims and practices, wherever
they were situated or travelled, that somehow involved the de- and
re-composition of material compounds, irrespective of whether they were labeled
as 'chemistry' by contemporaries.

In order to provide a manageable way into this huge and fascinating field, the
conference will be limited to the seventeenth - twentieth century and be
organized around a small number of topic areas:

· Chemistry and Global Commodities – examples include porcelain, sugar,
oil, rubber (natural and synthetic) and ‘recreational drugs’.

· Chemistry and Environment – modifying or sustaining the environment
through chemistry, whether conscious or as an unintended by-product. Examples
range from pest control to 'cradle to cradle' modes of production and include
globally connected topics such as the Green Revolutions and Bhopal.

· Chemistry and Global Health – from the early-modern circulation of
drugs and pharmaceutical knowledge to recent struggles over patent rights and
distribution of medicines.

· Chemistry and Industry – from the early-modern world of porcelain
manufacture, textile production and dyeing to recent issues relating to the
mining and exploitation of minerals only available in war-torn areas of Africa,
production of computers and cell phones.

· Chemistry and Governance – the role of governments, trading companies,
(professional and amateur) scientific societies and corporations in managing and
directing the production and circulation of chemically-based productions,
methods and knowledge

· Chemistry and Everyday Life - the introduction of new processes and
materials such as glass, cement, synthetic fibers, ersatz foods, plastics and
nano-materials. Subject areas might include topics such as architecture,
clothing and fashion, food and drink.

Running through the entire conference, we hope, will be attention to the
material exchange of chemical techniques of all kinds across different cultures
around the world, whether carried by commodities, books, concerns about public
health, or profit-seeking entrepreneurs.

Submit a Proposal
One-page proposals for individual presentations or round-table discussions that
fall under any of these rubrics or focus on relations between them are welcome.
We hope to include not only historians of chemistry, but also historians who
more generally investigate global commodities, the environment, global health,
industry, governance and material culture. The deadline for proposal submission
is June 1 2013. Travel support for participants, to defray the cost of
transportation and lodging will be available. The conference will be open
(without cost) to all who are interested.
Proposals should be sent to:

For further information, please contact Carin Berkowitz
[] or Lissa Roberts []

Scientific Committee
Lissa Roberts, University of Twente
James Delbourgo, Rutgers University
Fa-Ti Fan, SUNY Binghamton
Catherine Jackson, University of Notre Dame
Carin Berkowitz, Chemical Heritage Foundation

The Cain Conference is an annual conference intended to foster discussions about
the intersections of scholarly historical knowledge and practical information,
discussions that have a bearing on contemporary culture. It is supported by a
generous gift from Gordon Cain and is hosted by the Chemical Heritage
Foundation, an independent research library and center for scholars in
Philadelphia, PA.

Carin Berkowitz, Ph.D.
Associate Director of the Beckman Center
P: +1.215.873.8289
F: +1.215.629.5289

Chemical Heritage Foundation
315 Chestnut Street • Philadelphia, PA 19106 • U.S.A.