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History of Science Today, 2.: History of Science in the Netherlands

  • H. A. M. Snelders (a1)

After Jacobus Henricus van't Hoff had passed away on 1 March 1911, his pupil Charles Marinus van Deventer (1860–1931) wrote a very personal ‘in memoriam’ in the Dutch literary periodical De Gids, pointing out that van't Hoff had merely been interested in scientific facts, not in the people discovering these facts. Van't Hoff considered the study of the history of chemistry, although by no means uncongenial, a matter of little importance. He once even said: ‘To me historical research appears to be appropriate for a chemist in the decline of life, when he no longer creates professional ideas, and when the laboratory has become a burden to him’. Although van Deventer had studied physical chemistry at van't Hoff's Amsterdam laboratory and had been his assistant from 1885 until 1893, he disagreed with this verdict. Van Deventer was not only a capable physical chemist, he was also an active member of the Tachtigers, a circle of Dutch poets who around 1880 brought about a renewal in Dutch literature. He took a special interest in Greek philosophy. He did not graduate with van't Hoff, but with his colleague Jan Willem Gunning (1827–1900). His thesis was not based on physical-chemical, but on historical research: Schetsen uit de Geschiedenis van de Scheikunde (‘Sketches from the history of chemistry’; 13 December 1884). From 1922 to 1923 he lectured on the history of chemistry at Utrecht University. His fascinating lectures were published as Grepen uit de Historie der Chemie (‘Choices from the history of chemistry’; 1924). This work reveals his particular interest in the development of chemical concepts.

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1 van Deventer, Ch.M., ‘Jacobus Henricus van't Hoff. 1852–1911. In memoriam’, De Gids 75, (1911), part 2, pp. 138155.

2 Van Deventer, , op. cit. (1), p. 147.

3 van Berkel, K., In het Voetspoor van Stevin. Geschiedenis van de Natuurwetenschap in Nederland. 1580–1940, Meppel, Amsterdam, 1985.

4 Rudwick, M.J.S., The History of the Natural Sciences as Cultural History, Amsterdam, 1975.

5 Hooykaas, R., ‘De geschiedenis der natuurwetenschappen’. In: Scientia. Handboek voor Wetenschap, Kunst en Religie (ed. Dijksterhuis, E.J.), Zeist, 1957, Vol. III, pp. 405436 (408–410).

6 Dijksterhuis, E.J., Simon Stevin, 's-Gravenhage, 1943. An abridged English edition appeared as: Simon Stevin. Science in the Netherlands Round 1600, The Hague, 1970.

7 Hooykaas, , op. cit. (5), p. 409.

8 Rudwick, , op. cit. (4), p. 8.

9 Hooykaas, , op. cit. (5), p. 406.

10 Dijksterhuis, , Doel en methode van de geschiedenis der exacte wetenschappen, Amsterdam, 1953, p. 13.

11 Dijksterhuis, , op. cit. (10), p. 20.

12 Hooykaas, , ‘Wissenschaftsgeschichte—eine Brücke zwischen Natur-und Geisteswissenschaften’, Berichte zur Wissenschaftsgeschichte, (1982), 5, pp. 153172.

13 Van Berkel, , ‘Problemen rond integratie en specialisatie in de wetenschapsgeschiedenis: de “molecuultheorie van Isaac Beeckman”’, De zeventiende eeuw, (1986), 2, pp. 4156.

14 Snelders, H.A.M., Darwins ‘strijd om het bestaan’ en de evolutie in de niet-levende natuur, Amsterdam, 1983, p. 15. Cf. Terugzien naar bet verleden, een les voor het heden, Wageningen, 1979.

15 Palm, L.C., ‘De emancipatie van de wetenschapsgeschiedenis in Nederland: van scientia naar historia’, unpublished manuscript. I am grateful to Lodewijk Palm for discussions on the contents of this paper.

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The British Journal for the History of Science
  • ISSN: 0007-0874
  • EISSN: 1474-001X
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