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Thrifty Science

Making the Most of Materials in the History of Experiment

Simon Werrett

Thrifty Science

Simon Werrett

304 pages | 22 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2019
Cloth $45.00 ISBN: 9780226610252 Published January 2019
E-book $10.00 to $45.00 About E-books ISBN: 9780226610399 Published January 2019
If the twentieth century saw the rise of “Big Science,” then the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were surely an age of thrift. As Simon Werrett’s new history shows, frugal early modern experimenters transformed their homes into laboratories as they recycled, repurposed, repaired, and reused their material possessions to learn about the natural world.
 
Thrifty Science explores this distinctive culture of experiment and demonstrates how the values of the household helped to shape an array of experimental inquiries, ranging from esoteric investigations of glowworms and sour beer to famous experiments such as Benjamin Franklin’s use of a kite to show lightning was electrical and Isaac Newton’s investigations of color using prisms. Tracing the diverse ways that men and women put their material possessions into the service of experiment, Werrett offers a history of practices of recycling and repurposing that are often assumed to be more recent in origin. This thriving domestic culture of inquiry was eclipsed by new forms of experimental culture in the nineteenth century, however, culminating in the resource-hungry science of the twentieth. Could thrifty science be making a comeback today, as scientists grapple with the need to make their research more environmentally sustainable?
Contents
List of Illustrations
Introduction

1          Thrifty Science: Oeconomy and Experiment
2          Making a Home for Experiment
3          Shifty Science: How to Make Use of Things
4          The Power of Lasting: Maintenance and Cleaning
5          The Broken World: Repairs and Recycling
6          Secondhand Science
7          Auctions and the Dismantling of Science
8          The Palatial Laboratory: Economy and Experiment

Conclusion
Acknowledgments
Notes
Bibliograpy
 
Review Quotes
CHOICE
"Werrett coined the title phrase to encapsulate how early modern European experimenters placed the materials they employed within their overall understanding of proper stewardship of a household. For instance, they used the same substances, objects, and rooms for multiple purposes. Items were reused, repaired, and recycled. Practitioners esteemed improvisation and substitution, and secondhand markets existed. Werrett views these activities as part of an ethos of 'oeconomy,' or household management, that was especially noticeable in 17th- and 18th-century England. The book thus brings together references to thrift in natural philosophy from a few hundred primary sources, including publications and manuscripts by experimenters, periodicals, and manuals of domestic life. Werrett argues that an appreciation for thrift continued into the 19th century, even though experiment moved from the home to the laboratory, specialized instruments were adopted, waste was increasingly accepted, and generally the value system became one of "economy." He also suggests that thrifty practices may be coming back into use as scientists pursue sustainability. His aim is to provoke conversation and further, deeper research by historians and to offer insights to students interested in the history of science. . . . Recommended. All readers."
Nature
"Many students of science spend a fair bit of time learning about the theorists and experimentalists of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Yet it can be hard to picture these figures through the layers of historical scholarship and popular accounts. . . .  Simon Werrett's Thrifty Science is, among other things, a lively attempt to show another side of these figures and their era."
Lorraine Daston, Max Planck Institute for the History of Science
"Telescopes and microscopes transformed early modern science — but so did ingenious experiments improvised out of socks, glass shards, and rags. Simon Werrett returns us to a material world in which almost everything was multi-purpose and where “instrument” could be as much a verb as a noun. Thrifty Science is a thoroughly fresh look at the people, places, and things that made science in the most literal sense."
 
Simon Schaffer, University of Cambridge
"This charming and exceptionally timely book demonstrates the decisive roles that domestic ingenuity and the prudent care of everyday materials have long played in the work of experimental sciences. In a compelling account of how early modern British homes, their kitchens and cellars, studies and hallways, were cleverly used for trials on the widest possible range of natural and artificial phenomena, Werrett argues for the long term significance of a shrewdly frugal approach to the astonishing range of artifacts and substances used to establish an understanding of the world.

The book concludes with an impressively documented contrast between this earlier mode of homely thrift and the emergent forms of technical specialism and exclusive laboratory work that have come to dominate modern sciences. The book will be an indispensable resource for anyone concerned with the current meaning of artisan and makers' knowledge, and the moral and material issues surrounding contemporary scientific life."
Jan Golinski, University of New Hampshire
"Simon Werrett’s sprightly book documents the importance of repair, reuse, and recycling in early-modern science.  By examining how materials and apparatus were continuously adapted for new uses, he shows how scientific experiment was part of domestic oeconomy.  He has foraged widely in textual, visual, and material evidence to recover a history that has been largely forgotten in our age of throwaway consumption.  The book will appeal both to historians and to those who are concerned about the sustainability of today’s scientific practices."
For more information, or to order this book, please visit https://www.press.uchicago.edu
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