Creating networks in chemistry: the founding and early history of chemical societies in Europe

Creating networks in chemistry: the founding and early history of chemical societies in Europe 

Anita Kildeb?k Nielsen and So na Strb? n ov? (eds) 

Cambridge, UK: RSC Publishing 2008 | 380pp | ?45.00 (HB) ISBN 9780854042791 

Reviewed by Bill Griffith 

REVIEWS-chem socs-250

Most European national chemical societies were founded in the nineteenth century (the UK’s Chemical Society, now the RSC, is one of the oldest, founded in 1841). In this book, 14 of the 15 chapters cover the societies of Austria, Belgium, the Czech lands, Denmark, France, Germany, the UK, Hungary, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Russia, and Sweden. 

In one of the most penetrating essays, Ernst Homburg writes that chemical societies were founded in three waves: local ( ca  1750-1820), national (1840-1870) and ’national profession-oriented’ chemical societies (after ca  1875). This book deals principally with the latter phase, stopping short at 1914  a date, the editors believe, which marks the point at which concepts of science and the nature of Europe changed.   

Principal topics covered are the roots of the national chemical societies; the nature of the chemical professions involved; numbers, profiles and management of the membership; aims and organisation of the societies and their journals; and the balance between ’pure’ and ’applied’ aspects of chemistry. A final chapter,  Creating networks in chemistry - some lessons learned   is a general discussion, with a useful chronology on foundation of societies, their journals, the roles that they felt they should play, ’professional stratification’, matters of demarcation and foreign relations. 

As an edited book with some 20 authors some chapters are inevitably more interesting or better-structured than others, but on the whole the aim - to provide a perspective of a faraway period ( ca  1870 to 1914) - is achieved. Those seeking guidance on networking in the modern sense will be disappointed: despite the main title the subtitle more truly describes the contents of the book, and in those latter terms it succeeds.