In Search of the Chemical Revolution: Interpretive Strategies in the History of Chemistry

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In recent years the Chemical Revolution has become a renewed focus of interest among historians of science. This interest is shaped by interpretive strategies associated with the emergence and development of the discipline of the history of science. The discipline occupies a contested intellectual terrain formed in part by the development and cultural entanglements of science itself. Three stages in this development are analyzed in this paper. The interpretive strategies that characterized each stage are elucidated and traced to the disciplinary interests that gave rise to them. While positivists and whigs appropriated the history of science to the justificatory and celebratory needs of science itself, postpositivists linked it to philosophical models of rationality, and sociologists of knowledge sought its sociological reconstruction. Since none of these strategies do justice to the complexity of historical events, a model of the Chemical Revolution is outlined which upholds the autonomy and specificity of history and the methods used to study it.

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