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Cradle of Chemistry Book

Book coverThe Edinburgh medical faculty, founded in 1726, gave chemistry a tremendous boost. By mid-century one of Europe's most innovative pedagogic professors, William Cullen, changed the very definition of chemistry: it was deemed a subject in its own right, with practical and economic consequences.

His pupil, Joseph Black, made Edinburgh's star shine even brighter. He was the first person to show that a gas, like a liquid and a solid, had a chemical identity and in that sense he discovered carbon dioxide. Black's contribution went beyond the theoretical to the practical and his advice encouraged others to lay the foundations of the chemical industry.

Black's own pupil, Thomas Charles Hope, took over the chair in 1799 and by 1823 the number registering for his annual class of lectures reached the astonishing figure of 559. The world was flocking to Edinburgh to be taught chemistry.

This book brings together in a coherent fashion essays by some of the most prominent scholars in the field. It is the first time that his heroic science story has been told.


  1. Introduction (Robert G. W. Anderson)
  2. Science in the Athens of the North: The Development of Science in Enlightenment Edinburgh (John Henry)
  3. Leiden Chemistry in Edinburgh: Herman Boerhaave, James Crawford and Andrew Plummer (John C. Powers)
  4. Plummer to Cullen: Novelty in William Cullen’s Chemical Pedagogy (Georgette Taylor)
  5. ‘The Most Perfect Liberty’: Professors and Students in the Age of the Chemical Revolution (John R. R. Christie)
  6. Useful Pictures: Joseph Black and the Graphic Culture of Experimentation (Matthew Daniel Eddy)
  7. Materia Chemica: Excavation of the Early Chemistry Stores at Old College, University of Edinburgh (Tom Addyman)
  8. Surviving Eighteenth-Century Chemical Apparatus in the National Museums of Scotland (Alison D. Morrison-Low)
  9. Joseph Black’s house in Nicolson Street: Its History and Ultimate Fate (Peter J. T. Morris)
  10. Thomas Charles Hope and the Limiting Legacy of Joseph Black (Robert G. W. Anderson)
  11. ‘A Golden Cage, but Will the Birds Sing?’: William Gregory, Lyon Playfair and Alexander Crum Brown (Andrew J. Alexander)
  12. Afterword (Hasok Chang)

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