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Early Modern Women and Alchemy, 1550-1700

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - WALCHEMY (Early Modern Women and Alchemy, 1550-1700)

Periodo di rendicontazione: 2019-04-01 al 2021-03-31

Principal objective, the problems addressed, and the importance of the project for society:
The principal objective of WALCHEMY was to produce the single-authored monograph: 'Women Writers and Alchemy in Early Modern Britain'. During the Renaissance, alchemy referred to the craft of chemical transmutation. Scholars have demonstrated that the invention and flourishing of printing during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries facilitated the wide dissemination of alchemical knowledge in Europe. Whilst Renaissance male authors’ use of alchemical language is well known, women writer’s appropriation of chemical discourse is often overlooked. This monograph proposes that a vibrant female alchemical literary culture developed in early modern Britain in which women writers manipulated alchemical discourse to foreground the transformative physical, spiritual and intellectual agency of the female chemical practitioner. This monograph is important because it uncovers a previously unrecognized female-authored chemical culture and in so doing challenges the assumption that scientific discourses and traditions are exclusively male. The full manuscript of this monograph has been completed and is currently being prepared for peer review with Cambridge University Press.
The archival research for the single-authored monograph, ‘Women Writers and Alchemy in Early Modern Britain’, has been completed (following 1.1 of the grant proposal) and the full manuscript of the monograph has been drafted. The book proposal was positively reviewed by Cambridge University Press (CUP) in February 2021 and CUP has requested the full manuscript for peer review. Furthermore, the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions Fellow has edited a forum of essays on the topic, ‘Women and Alchemy in Early Modern Europe’, which has been peer reviewed and published in the spring 2021 issue of ‘Early Modern Women: An Interdisciplinary Journal’: https://www.acmrs.org/early-modern-women-journal-volume-15-2/. This forum includes the Fellow’s essay, ‘Introducing Women’s Alchemical Cultures’. The 7 essays in the forum are available open access (gold standard): https://muse.jhu.edu/issue/44274. The Fellow’s public lecture on ‘Alchemical Literature, the Elements and Gender’ was delivered via Zoom on 17 February 2021.
It has long been established by scholars such as Stanton Linden, Lyndy Abraham and Margaret Healy that the medieval and Renaissance discourse of chemical transmutation – alchemy – had a profound impact on the literary works of early modern male writers including John Donne, George Herbert, Henry Vaughan and Andrew Marvell. But how did the female contemporaries of these male authors utilize alchemical language and concepts? The Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions Fellow’s single-authored monograph, ‘Women Writers and Alchemy in Early Modern Britain’, is the first book-length study to analyze how and why sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Anglophone women writers deployed alchemical discourse. Through archival research and close textual analysis, the monograph reconstructs a hitherto forgotten female alchemical literary culture which did not place the male chemical practitioner at its centre, but brought to the fore the authority of the female alchemist. The full manuscript of this monograph has been completed and is currently being prepared for peer review with Cambridge University Press. This monograph will be of significant interest to scholars and students interested in Renaissance literature, women’s writing and the history of alchemy, science and medicine. Studies on the history of alchemy also attract readers beyond academia, attested by the open-access online resources: the Alchemy Website (https://www.alchemywebsite.com/) and Levity (http://www.levity.com/alchemy/). The monograph will thus appeal to readers beyond academia.
The Forum of essays on ‘Women and Alchemy in Early Modern Europe’ (edited by the Fellow and published in the spring 2021 issue of ‘Early Modern Women: An Interdisciplinary Journal’), has pushed the scholarship on women’s involvement in the history of science further by identifying an early modern pan-European female chemical culture.
The Fellow’s public lecture on ‘Alchemical Literature, the Elements and Gender’ (which was delivered via Zoom on 17 February 2021) introduced a non-specialist audience to the history of early modern women alchemists. This lecture was advertised on Twitter (via @RECIRC_) and Instagram (via ASV Prometheus) and brought the topic of women in the history of chemistry to a wide, non-academic audience.
The Prophetess Maria, in Michael Maier, Symbola Aureæ Mensæ Duodecim Nationum (Frankfurt, 1617)