Article ID: CBB504962873

Gershom Bulkeley, “Saltbox Science,” and the Colonial New England Laboratory (2023)


This article investigates the prolific colonial New England alchemist and physician Gershom Bulkeley (1635/36–1713) and his late seventeenth-century household laboratory. First, I provide an updated bibliography and biography of Bulkeley and then engage an assemblage of surviving commonplace and account books, inventories, a vade mecum, and several books discovered to have been previously owned by Bulkeley. In order to understand Bulkeley’s laboratory, I coin the term “saltbox science,” arguing that his work combined European textual knowledge and temporal and material adaptations within the colonial household and town. I describe first his creative flexibility in regard to the construction of laboratory furnaces that were based on designs initially gained from Europeans. Thereafter, I demonstrate how his laboratory practice was embedded within his household and his town’s temporal rhythms and material networks. Bulkeley’s “saltbox science” is meant to serve as a template for understanding a certain domestic class of seventeenth-century colonial New England alchemists who, in general, leave behind little archival evidence of their laboratory activities.

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Authors & Contributors
Aldrich, Mark
Arnold, Michael
Bilak, Donna
Brüning, Volker Fritz
Hartung, Gerald
Laube, Stefan
Ambix: Journal of the Society for the History of Alchemy and Chemistry
Technology and Culture
Agricultural History
American Quarterly
I Tatti Studies: Essays in the Renaissance
NTM: Zeitschrift für Geschichte der Naturwissenschaften, Technik und Medizin
University of North Carolina Press
Columbia University Press
K. G. Saur Verlag
Leuven University Press
Oxford University Press
Science History Publications
Household technology
Domestic space
Material culture
Allin, John
Boerhaave, Herman
Descartes, René
Paracelsus, Theophrast von Hohenheim
Winthrop, John
Time Periods
17th century
20th century
16th century
19th century
20th century, early
United States
New England (U.S.)
Rome (Italy)
Harvard University
Smithsonian Institution

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