The Language of Mineralogy: John Walker, Chemistry and the Edinburgh Medical School, 1750-1800, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

The Language of Mineralogy

John Walker, Chemistry and the Edinburgh Medical School, 1750-1800, 1st Edition

By Matthew D. Eddy


332 pages

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Classification is an important part of science, yet the specific methods used to construct Enlightenment systems of natural history have proven to be the bête noir of studies of eighteenth-century culture. One reason that systematic classification has received so little attention is that natural history was an extremely diverse subject which appealed to a wide range of practitioners, including wealthy patrons, professionals, and educators. In order to show how the classification practices of a defined institutional setting enabled naturalists to create systems of natural history, this book focuses on developments at Edinburgh's medical school, one of Europe's leading medical programs. In particular, it concentrates on one of Scotland's most influential Enlightenment naturalists, Rev Dr John Walker, the professor of natural history at the school from 1779 to 1803. Walker was a traveller, cleric, author and advisor to extremely powerful aristocratic and government patrons, as well as teacher to hundreds of students, some of whom would go on to become influential industrialists, scientists, physicians and politicians. This book explains how Walker used his networks of patrons and early training in chemistry to become an eighteenth-century naturalist. Walker's mineralogy was based firmly in chemistry, an approach common in Edinburgh's medical school, but a connection that has been generally overlooked in the history of British geology. By explicitly connecting eighteenth-century geology to the chemistry being taught in medical settings, this book offers a dynamic new interpretation of the nascent earth sciences as they were practiced in Enlightenment Britain. Because of Walker's influence on his many students, the book also provides a unique insight into how many of Britain's leading Regency and Victorian intellectuals were taught to think about the composition and structure of the material world.


'The Language of Mineralogy ranges far beyond the traditional canon of philosophical texts to fashion important new perspectives on the intellectual and social world of the Scottish Enlightenment. John Walker's multi-faceted life as a teacher, field naturalist, clergyman, and advisor and companion to powerful aristocratic patrons is a rich quarry that Matthew Eddy exploits with authority and elegance. His book brings to centre-stage the painstaking tasks of classification in which Walker excelled. In doing so, it sets systems of natural history as a matter of central concern at the fertile interface between chemistry and mineralogy within the Edinburgh Medical School. As Eddy shows, such systems were anything but the static impediments to creative thought that they have too often been taken to be. The rehabilitation they receive in this book is long-overdue. This is cultural history of a high order.' Professor Robert Fox, University of Oxford 'In this detailed study of the scientific career of John Walker, Professor of Natural History at the University of Edinburgh in the late eighteenth century, Matthew Eddy has created a rich intellectual and social tapestry that greatly enhances our understanding of the scientific mindsets and activities of the Enlightenment. Eddy uses Walker's principal scientific interest in mineralogy to illustrate the relations and interactions between different sciences of the time, such as chemistry, medicine and geology. He also provides a detailed study of the commercial, industrial, social and cultural contexts of Walker's science and shows concretely how Walker participated in the international scientific 'republic of letters'. Eschewing retrospective "Whig" evaluation enables Eddy to present and analyze Walker's scientific theories and practices in mineralogy and geology with great historical empathy. We really get to feel what the sciences of chemistry, mineralogy and geology were like in the era before the triumph of Lavois

Table of Contents

Contents: Introduction; Who was John Walker? The life of a notable naturalist; Sorting the evidence: analysis and the nomenclature of matter; Becoming a naturalist: travel, classification and patronage; Systematic mineralogy: arranging the fabric of the globe; Ordering the Earth: the chemical foundations of geology; Conclusion; Appendices; Bibliography; Index.

About the Author

Matthew D. Eddy is a Lecturer at the University of Durham, UK

About the Series

Science, Technology and Culture, 1700-1945

Science, Technology and Culture, 1700-1945 focuses on the social, cultural, industrial and economic contexts of science and technology from the ‘scientific revolution’ up to the Second World War. Publishing lively, original, innovative research across a broad spectrum of subjects and genres by an international list of authors, the series has a global compass that concerns the development of modern science in all regions of the world. Subjects may range from close studies of particular sciences and problems to cultural and social histories of science, technology and biomedicine; accounts of scientific travel and exploration; transnational histories of scientific and technological change; monographs examining instruments, their makers and users; the material and visual cultures of science; contextual studies of institutions and of individual scientists, engineers and popularizers of science; and well-edited volumes of essays on themes in the field.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
HISTORY / General