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Early Modern Women and Alchemy, 1550-1700

Project description

British Women Writers’ Use of Alchemy

Women represent 30 % of the scientific community, according to UNESCO statistics. The purpose of this research is to prove that scientific engagement is not only a male phenomenon as there is notable female contribution to the history of science. The EU-funded WALCHEMY project focuses on scientific revolution in 16th and 17th century Britain and the involvement of women in alchemy – the craft of chemical transformation. The researchers argue that the spread of typography favoured scientific publications on alchemy, the knowledge of which was well known among women writers. Based on Anglophone female-authored literature, research will explore the impact alchemy had on the works of these women writers.


In 2017 UNESCO pointed out that only 30% of the world’s scientific researchers are women. One reason for this low statistic (according to UNESCO) is the lack of visible female role models. Feminist scholars such as Sarah Hutton, Alisha Rankin and Meredith Ray have turned to the era of the European scientific revolution – the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries – to investigate women’s contribution to the history of science. This research is important because it has spotlighted women scientists from the past and demonstrated that scientific enquiry is not simply a male phenomenon. There is, however, one area in the history of science that is noticeably understudied in relation to women writers but in which they were paradoxically most active: alchemy. Lyndy Abraham and Tara Nummedal have shown that alchemical knowledge – the craft of chemical transmutation, both physical and spiritual – was widely disseminated in this period because of the invention and flourishing of printing. I will concentrate on Anglophone female authors because scholars such as Stanton Linden and Robert Schuler have foregrounded a British male alchemical literary tradition, but have overlooked women’s participation in that tradition. I will produce the first in-depth book-length study to explore the influence of alchemy on early modern Anglophone female authors’ works. In so doing, my project seeks to recover a previously unrecognized female-authored alchemical culture that privileged the transformative power of the female mind, word, body and spirit. By adding the hitherto absent dimension of women’s literary thought and practice to our understanding of the alchemical and holistic mind-set of early modern Britain, this study will make a landmark contribution to the histories of science and women’s writing. As such, it will be a key resource for students and scholars interested in women’s engagement with science and the cross-fertilization between scientific discourses and literary language.


Net EU contribution
€ 175 572,48
2311 EZ Leiden

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West-Nederland Zuid-Holland Agglomeratie Leiden en Bollenstreek
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 175 572,48