Associate Professor of History:
Phone: +1 401 863 9757
Phone 2: +1 401 863 2131
Tara Nummedal's work examines knowledge of nature particularly alchemy and its place in the society and culture of early modern Europe. Her first book, Alchemy and Authority in the Holy Roman Empire (University of Chicago Press, 2007), takes fraud as a point of entry into entrepreneurial alchemical practices in central Europe. Her current project, The Lion's Blood, examines the intersection of gender and apocalypticism in the life of the 16th-century German alchemist Anna Maria Zieglerin.
Tara Nummedal grew up in Seal Beach, California. She received a B.A. in History from Pomona College in 1992, an M.A. in History from University of California-Davis in 1996, and a PhD in History from Stanford University in 2001. After spending 2001-02 as the Edelstein International Fellow at the Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia, she joined the Department of History at Brown in 2002. She teaches courses in early modern Europe and the history of science, and currently serves as Director of the Program in Science Technology Studies.
My work has explored the social and cultural meaning of nature in early modern central Europe. My first book, Alchemy and Authority in the Holy Roman Empire (University of Chicago Press, 2007), takes the problem of fraud as a point of entry into the world of alchemical practice in the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Holy Roman Empire. Fears of alchemical fraud responded to a vibrant market for alchemy in which ordinary practitioners flourished alongside learned alchemists. Drawing on criminal trials, patronage appeals, contracts, and letters, this project reconstructs the lives and labor of these ordinary alchemists who have been largely invisible in existing historiography. The debates about fraud, expressed in polemical treatises and in courtrooms, make it possible to examine how early modern Europeans distinguished true alchemists from impostors, as well as what was at stake in doing so.
My next project, The Lion's Blood: Alchemy, Apocalypse, and Gender in Reformation Europe (under contract with the University of Pennsylvania Press), uses the dramatic tale of Anna Zieglerin's rise and fall at a ducal court in the 1570s as a point of entry into the intersection of science, gender, and religious culture in Reformation Germany. One of the few women alchemists about whom we have extant sources, Zieglerin practiced alchemy in her own laboratory, recorded her recipes involving a golden oil called the lion's blood, and attracted the support of a German duke for her alchemical work. At the same time, she articulated an eschatological program in which she, as a "new Virgin Mary," would use the lion's blood to repopulate the world in preparation for the Last Days. In positioning her body and her alchemy at the center of a spectacular cosmic drama, Zieglerin offers an opportunity to explore the porous boundary between science and religion in the era of the Reformation.
Finalist, President's Book Award, Social Science History Association, 2006.
Partington Prize, Society for the History of Alchemy and Chemistry, 2000.
Rosenfeld Dissertation Prize, Department of History, Stanford University, June 2001.
See also Funded Research, below
President, New England Renaissance Conference (2009-2014)
Editorial Board, Osiris (2009-2013)
Executive Committee, International Society for Paracelsus Studies, 2005-present
Member, History of Science Society, Sixteenth Century Conference, Renaissance Society of America, American Association for the History of Medicine
Since 2002, I have taught courses on the history of Europe from Ancient Rome to the 18th c., Renaissance Italy, the Scientific Revolution, gender, and crime and punishment in early modern Europe (c. 1500-1800)
2011-12: John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship.
2010-11: American Council of Learned Societies Frederick Burkhardt Residential Fellowship for Recently Tenured Scholars (Huntington Library)
2005-06: National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship.
2001-02: Sidney M. Edelstein International Fellowship in the History of the Chemical Sciences and Technologies, Chemical Heritage Foundation (Philadelphia, Pa.) and the Edelstein Center for the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine at the Hebrew University (Jerusalem, Israel).
1998-99: DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) Annual Grant, Berlin, Germany.
- Nature's Disciplines (Cogut Humanities Research Group)
- Distillations (podcast review of Alchemy and Authority in the Holy Roman Empire)
- Alchemy and Authority in the Holy Roman Empire
- Program in Science and Technology Studies