Dr Alisha Rankin (University of Cambridge)
Dr Elaine Leong (University of Warwick)
Secrets played a central role in transformations in medical and scientific knowledge in early modern Europe. As a new fascination with novelty began to take hold from the late fifteenth century, Europeans thirsted for previously unknown details about the natural world: new plants, animals, and other objects from nature, new recipes for medical and alchemical procedures, new knowledge about the human body, and new facts about the way nature worked. These 'secrets' became popular items of commerce and trade, as the quest for new and exclusive bits of natural knowledge met the vibrant early modern marketplace. Whether disclosed widely in print or kept more circumspect in manuscripts, secrets helped drive an expanding interest in nature throughout early modern Europe.
'Secrets and Knowledge' will provide a forum to explore recent research on the circulation of secrets in medieval and early modern medicine and science. The last decade has seen significant development in our understanding of the market for secrets, particularly as scholars have begun to examine manuscript materials alongside printed texts. The scholars attending the symposium represent a diverse group from the UK, US, Canada, and Europe. The conference aims especially to foment discussion across scholarly generations-it will bring established experts in the field together with younger academics, encouraging active discussion on the current state of research and its future directions. Topics of formal presentation and discussion will include: the possession, circulation and exchange of secret knowledge across Europe; medical secrets and the emerging market for proprietary medicines; the role of apothecaries in the propagation of secrets; alchemical secrets and laboratory processes; patronage and the upper-class market for secrets; and gender and secrets.
This conference has been funded by CRASSH and a Wellcome enhancement award in the history of medicine to the Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge.