Book Event | Harvard-Princeton Graduate Conference in Early Modern History

Saturday, February 13, 2021, 1:30 pm2:30 pm


Event Description

Fourteenth Annual Harvard-Princeton Graduate Conference in Early Modern History | "Prisoners and Players, Merchants and Ministers: An Early Modern Fair"

An Experimental Inquisition? Hannah Marcus and Jennifer Rampling in conversation with Ann Blair and Anthony Grafton

  • Forbidden Knowledge: Medicine, Science and Censorship in Early Modern Italy | Hannah Marcus, Harvard University

  • The Experimental Fire: Inventing English Alchemy, 1300-1700 | Jennifer Rampling, Princeton University

This portion of the conference is open to the public. Registration is required to attend. To register, visit:

Forbidden Knowledge: Medicine, Science, and Censorship in Early Modern Italy
by Hannah Marcus
(University of Chicago Press)

Forbidden Knowledge explores the censorship of medical books from their proliferation in print through the prohibitions placed on them during the Counter-Reformation. How and why did books banned in Italy in the sixteenth century end up back on library shelves in the seventeenth? Historian Hannah Marcus uncovers how early modern physicians evaluated the utility of banned books and facilitated their continued circulation in conversation with Catholic authorities.
Through extensive archival research, Marcus highlights how talk of scientific utility, once thought to have begun during the Scientific Revolution, in fact began earlier, emerging from ecclesiastical censorship and the desire to continue to use banned medical books. What’s more, this censorship in medicine, which preceded the Copernican debate in astronomy by sixty years, has had a lasting impact on how we talk about new and controversial developments in scientific knowledge. Beautiful illustrations accompany this masterful, timely book about the interplay between efforts at intellectual control and the utility of knowledge.

The Experimental Fire: Investing English Alcemy, 1300-1700
By Jennifer M. Rampling
(University of Chicago Press)

In medieval and early modern Europe, the practice of alchemy promised extraordinary physical transformations. Who would not be amazed to see base metals turned into silver and gold, hard iron into soft water, and deadly poison into elixirs that could heal the human body? To defend such claims, alchemists turned to the past, scouring ancient books for evidence of a lost alchemical heritage and seeking to translate their secret language and obscure imagery into replicable, practical effects.

Tracing the development of alchemy in England over four hundred years, from the beginning of the fourteenth century to the end of the seventeenth, Jennifer M. Rampling illuminates the role of alchemical reading and experimental practice in the broader context of national and scientific history. Using new manuscript sources, she shows how practitioners like George Ripley, John Dee, and Edward Kelley, as well as many previously unknown alchemists, devised new practical approaches to alchemy while seeking the support of English monarchs. By reconstructing their alchemical ideas, practices, and disputes, Rampling reveals how English alchemy was continually reinvented over the space of four centuries, resulting in changes to the science itself. In so doing, The Experimental Fire bridges the intellectual history of chemistry and the wider worlds of early modern patronage, medicine, and science. 

Co-Sponsored by:

Harvard University Department of History


Anthony Grafton, Princeton University

Ann Blair, Harvard University

Jennifer Loessy
15th & 16th Centuries
17th & 18th Centuries
Scholarly Series
Early Modern History Workshop