Donna Bilak

Edelstein Fellow, Postdoctoral

  • Phone: 215.873.8203

Donna Bilak holds an M.A. in history from York University and has received her Ph.D. from the Bard Graduate Center: Decorative Arts, Design History, Material Culture (BGC). Bilak’s dissertation, “The Chymical Cleric: John Allin, Puritan Alchemist in England and America (1623–1683),” examines the life and times of an unknown Harvard-educated Puritan minister, physician, and alchemist who operated on both sides of the Atlantic. Allin’s story is an important conduit for understanding the realities of premodern alchemical practice and its relationship with profound changes that emerged in medicine, natural philosophy, and social life in the British Atlantic world. Allin’s story is also significant for illuminating a deep connection between alchemy and millenarian expectations as understood through scriptural exegesis.

Bilak will be conducting research at CHF as the 2013–14 Edelstein Postdoctoral Fellow on the extraordinary alchemical emblem book by Michael Maier, Atalanta fugiens (1618), which is part of the Othmer Library’s rare-book collection. This work is best known to historians of science for its 50 exquisite engravings that visually render the hermetic lexicon. But the Atalanta’s image series is also paired with music scored for three voices: drawn from classical mythology, Atalanta, Hippomenes, and the Golden Apple are the three alchemical protagonists in Maier’s work who represent the elemental triad of Mercury, Sulphur, and Salt. Maier’s Atalanta is intellectually creative, but this multimedia emblem book is not a work of fantasy. Bilak’s research at CHF will explore Maier’s work as being an allegorically enciphered manual whose synthesis of music, image, and text fully articulates the alchemical system of theory and praxis used to produce the philosophers’ stone, the great panacea held to restore prelapsarian perfect health and longevity.

Before graduate school, where her interest in early modern science emerged, Bilak worked in Toronto’s jewelry industry as a designer and wax-model maker. Bilak has advanced her dual interest in the history of alchemy as well as the material culture of jewelry and technology at the BGC, a research institution in New York City dedicated to the encyclopedic study of ideas and things across culture. Bilak has lectured internationally on these two subjects, as discrete topics, and in interdisciplinary explorations that consider intersections in jewelry, science, and technology.

Bilak’s research interests are further detailed at dbilakpraxis.com and at Academia.edu.

Upcoming Events

Science, Song, and the Philosophers’ Stone: Reading Michael Maier’s Alchemical Emblem Book, Atalanta fugiens (1618): A Brown Bag Lecture by Donna Bilak

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