A History of Chemistry in Two Words

In the months leading up to the opening of the Museum at CHF’s new exhibit, The Alchemical Quest, Periodic Tabloid will be featuring posts on alchemy and its interpretations, as well as special photo and video previews as the exhibit takes shape. Today we’re revisiting our most popular blog post from 2011, which explores the alchemical history hidden within language itself.

This post originally appeared on September 13, 2011.

As fans of CHF no doubt know, alchemy was once the name given to “the science of matter;” only around the latter half of the sixteenth century did the term chemistry begin to appear in Western sources. The theories behind this shift in use, and the source of the root word – chem – nicely encapsulates the history of chemistry itself, and the questions that remain about its origins. Howard Markel, professor of the history of medicine at the University of Michigan, spoke about the etymology of chemistry a few weeks ago on Science Friday’s “Science Diction” segment:


Interested listeners may want to review the feature story on Arabic alchemy Chemical Heritage published a few years back; the field is one that has much to tell us about the gaps in our current timeline. And linguistic artifacts, more than mere word play, can do much to provide strong and basic evidence for chemistry’s – or alchemy’s – global history.

The Periodic Tabloid Staff is peopled by a rotating cast from CHF. The Alchemical Quest opens July 2 at the Museum at CHF.

How to Make History of Science Interesting: Part I [Periodic Tabloid]
How to Make History of Science Interesting: Part II [Periodic Tabloid]
Alchemical Actors in the Hach Gallery [Periodic Tabloid]
Al-Kimya: Notes on Arabic Alchemy [Chemical Heritage]

Posted In: History

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