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Wolfgang Lefevre

Wolfgang Lefèvre is Senior Scientist at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin. He is the author or editor of several other books.

Titles by This Author

A Historical Ontology

In the eighteenth century, chemistry was the science of materials. Chemists treated mundane raw materials and chemical substances as multidimensional objects of inquiry that could be investigated in both practical and theoretical contexts--as useful commodities, perceptible objects of nature, and entities with hidden and imperceptible features. In this history of materials, Ursula Klein and Wolfgang Lefèvre link chemical science with chemical technology, challenging our current understandings of objects in the history of science and the distinction between scientific and technological objects. They further show that chemists’ experimental production and understanding of materials changed over time, first in the decades around 1700 and then around 1830, when mundane materials became clearly distinguished from true chemical substances.The authors approach their subject by scrutinizing the modes of identification and classification used by chemists and learned practitioners of the period. They find that chemists' classificatory practices especially were strikingly diverse. In scientific investigations, materials were classified either according to chemical composition or according to provenance and perceptible qualities. The authors further argue that chemists did not live in different worlds of materials before and after the Lavoisierian chemical revolution of the late eighteenth century. Their two main studies first explore the long tradition that informed Lavoisier's new nomenclature and method of classifying pure chemical substances and then describe the continuing classification of plant materials according to a pre-Lavoisierian scheme of provenance and perceptible qualities even after the chemical revolution, until a new mode of classification was accepted in the 1830s.

Titles by This Editor

Technical drawings by the architects and engineers of the Renaissance made use of a range of new methods of graphic representation. These drawings—among them Leonardo da Vinci's famous drawings of mechanical devices—have long been studied for their aesthetic qualities and technological ingenuity, but their significance for the architects and engineers themselves is seldom considered. The essays in Picturing Machines 1400-1700 take this alternate perspective and look at how drawing shaped the practice of early modern engineering. They do so through detailed investigations of specific images, looking at over 100 that range from sketches to perspective views to thoroughly constructed projections.

In early modern engineering practice, drawings were not merely visualizations of ideas but acted as models that shaped ideas. Picturing Machines establishes basic categories for the origins, purposes, functions, and contexts of early modern engineering illustrations, then treats a series of topics that not only focus on the way drawings became an indispensable means of engineering but also reflect the main stages in their historical development. The authors examine the social interaction conveyed by early machine images and their function as communication between practitioners; the knowledge either conveyed or presupposed by technical drawings, as seen in those of Giorgio Martini and Leonardo; drawings that required familiarity with geometry or geometric optics, including the development of architectural plans; and technical illustrations that bridged the gap between practical and theoretical mechanics.