Cesare Pastorino

Cesare Pastorino

Cesare Pastorino

Gordon Cain Fellow, 2010–2011

Cesare Pastorino is a Gordon Cain Fellow. A historian of early modern science and natural philosophy, Pastorino has a particular interest in the history of experiment and in the emergence of experimental practices and standards in the early modern period. A major theme of his work regards the interactions between mechanical artisans and natural philosophers and the links between experimentation and technical practice.

Pastorino pursued his Ph.D. in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at Indiana University. In his doctoral research, Pastorino investigated the role that inventors and projectors of the early Stuart age played in shaping Francis Bacon’s reflection on technical innovation and his notion of experiment.

Pastorino also holds an M.A. in history and philosophy of science from Indiana University (2006), an M.A. in history of science from Lancaster University, United Kingdom (2000), and an undergraduate degree in physics from the University of Genoa, Italy (1996). 

In 2006 Pastorino was awarded a Roy G. Neville Fellowship from CHF. In 2002 he received a Norwood Russell Hanson Fellowship from the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at Indiana University. Between 2004 and 2009, Pastorino worked on the project The Chymistry of Isaac Newton as a research and editorial assistant.

Current Research

While at CHF, Pastorino will develop a project titled “‘Minerall Tryalls’: Metal Assaying and Experiment in Early Modern England.”

Mineral and metal assaying had a fundamental and well-recognized place in early modern societies and economies. Goldsmiths routinely tested the purity of precious metals employed in commerce. Mint assayers and officials assured that state coinage would fit precise standards and helped to fight counterfeiting. In the mining industry, tests were commonly carried out to ascertain the composition of mineral ores and to guide further investigations. Expeditions to unexplored regions normally included metallurgists and assayers, and large-scale assaying projects were often undertaken to prove—or to debunk—claims of economic potential of a newly discovered land. In Elizabethan England, this was the case with Martin Frobisher and Walter Raleigh, who sought assayers’ expertise after their travels to the Arctic and Guyana.

In his research, Pastorino addresses the important yet little-studied role of early modern assaying in the origins of 17th-century English experimental science. He claims that early modern English assayers naturally employed working methodologies, standards, and practices that anticipated those of the English experimental philosophers. Early modern assaying inherently entailed concerns for accuracy, quantification, and replicability. Moreover, issues of trust regarding assayers' impartiality and integrity commonly were at stake. Assayers were not just technical practitioners but experts officially certifying their work. Their assessments were often binding in an institutional context, and their trials were linked to law courts in a more than metaphorical sense.

Assayers serving as expert witnesses established a middle ground between the legal and the experimental tradition. A remarkable example of this fact is given by the assaying tests taking place in the Star Chamber, the so-called Trials of the Pyx. Every year, assayers of the Goldsmiths’ Company sat as legal jurors at the presence of the Privy Council in order to ascertain and certify the purity of the coins produced at the Royal Mint. The Trials of the Pyx represent a striking case in which “minerall” trials were also literally judicial trials.

In the long term, this research will provide a map of the early modern English culture of assaying, of its practitioners, and of the sites where assayers were employed. A particular emphasis will be given to the English colonies and the role of metallurgy in the context of the voyages of exploration. Pastorino will examine assaying standards and technical procedures and will consider the assayers' systems of data collection and experimental recording. He will look at the institutional and entrepreneurial dimensions of assaying, investigating the role of assayers as mint public officers and the legal implications of assaying trials. Finally, he will look at assaying culture in the context of the emergence of English experimental philosophy. Pastorino will especially consider assaying and metallurgy in the Hartlib Circle, and the role of assaying in the work of Robert Boyle.


“The Mine and the Furnace: Francis Bacon, Thomas Russell, and Early Stuart Mining Culture.” Early Science and Medicine, 14 (5) 2009: 630-660.

“Francis Bacon.” Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography, edited by Noretta Koertge. Vol. 19. Detroit: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2008.

“The Digital Index Chemicus: Toward a Digital Tool for Studying Isaac Newton's Index Chemicus.” Body, Space & Technology Journal, 7 (2) 2007. (with T. Lopez and J. Walsh)

“Bacon's Proteus.” Chemical Heritage. 24 (4) Winter 2006/07.

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