The paper sets out to cast new light on the relationship between mining and chemistry in Sweden during the first part of the eighteenth century.
During the period, chemistry was mainly pursued by officials at the Board of Mines, the government agency for control of the mining industry. There, chemistry was to a large extent considered an auxilliary science to the industry, and was used to improve and control mining practices.
The paper studies chemistry’s dependence on the Board of Mines as a support structure, and as a nurturing matrix in which it could evolve theoretically and define itself as a cluster of theories and methods independent from alchemy. For example, it was in their capacities as employees of the Swedish Board of Mines that Georg Brandt and Axel Fredrik Cronstedt conducted the mineralogical investigations that would lead to their discoveries of cobalt (discovered by Brandt in 1730) and nickel (discovered by Cronstedt in 1751).
A central argument is that chemistry fulfilled not only scientific, but also social functions at the Board. It served to preserve the social status of the often high born officials. In order to advance at the Board, they had to learn and practice the skills of craftsmen such as assayers. While an eighteenth-century nobleman could be a learned man, he could not be a craftsman (or at least not admit that he was one). By making craft procedures a subordinated part of chemistry, an intellectual pursuit, an imagined or factual decline of social status could be avoided. Thus the hand was not elevated above the head, or rather the “heads” of the Board of Mines were not brought down to the level of the miners and other craftsmen they were meant to control.
It is furthermore argued that chemistry became surprisingly “modern” in this context, and that important concepts that were later to be taken up by such chemists as Torbern Bergman and Antoine Laurent Lavoisier were originally developed in this setting.
2006. 150-156 p.