About the Convener

The project was created by Dóra Bobory, a historian of science with a special interest in alchemy and astrology. She is alumna of the Medieval Studies Department at CEU (Budapest). She is also the organiser of the first workshop of the project ‘On the Fringes of Alchemy.’   


The history of alchemy has been subject to an intensified interest in the past few decades as is testified by a growing number of related conferences and publications. Through the works of Bruce T. Moran based on German sources we now are familiar with the emergence of a new type of scientific persona, the prince-practitioner, in the second half of the sixteenth century. Studies on wealthy patrons of the occult arts, such as Emperor Rudolf II further enhanced the role courts and intellectual communication networks played in the transmission of ideas, while more and more alchemical texts have been subjected to philological analysis to provide a clearer idea about the traditions and sources alchemical authors may have drawn upon. Archaeological excavations and research on the material culture pertaining to alchemical experimentation helped us sharpen the image we have of the nature and scale of such activities in late medieval and early modern Europe.

These studies, however, focused largely on Western Europe and the central territories of the Habsburg Monarchy and on major figures in the history of science, while traces of alchemical experimentation, prince-practitioners and new sites of knowledge production were demonstrably present in less studied geographical areas too. Also, many new and relevant studies were published only in national languages and thus are not widely accessible. This is partially due to the fact that in East-Central Europe, for instance, historiography had a more traditional orientation and did not invite research on non-canonical subjects like alchemy. The situation, however, is slowly changing, and the aim of the informal research project and the upcoming workshop ‘On the Fringes of Alchemy’ is to promote a fresh look on old, and the search for hitherto neglected or unknown, sources related to alchemy.     

In the framework of the workshop we would like to explore the fringes of alchemy, both in a disciplinary and a geographical sense. In the course of its long history, alchemy has incorporated the most diverse theological, philosophical and artisanal traditions from Hermetic, Neoplatonic and Gnostic doctrines to medical-distillatory and metallurgical workshop practices. Alchemy cannot be defined without reducing it to one or another of its many components. In the first centuries of its fortune in the Latin West, alchemy was practiced primarily in the context of monastic culture, later it found expression mostly under the patronage of aristocrats, not independently from its financial implications.

We invited papers that offer new insights into our understanding of the disciplinary borders of alchemy. What counts as alchemy in the late medieval and early modern period? Who were the alchemists? Where and how did they practice their art? While the concepts of center and periphery are no longer considered historically justified, it remains a fact that there are very few publications, especially in English, on alchemy in territories on the fringes of late medieval and early modern Europe. Therefore, we would also like to address the issue of the transfer of alchemical knowledge between various regions, religions and cultures, between East and West, North and South, Arabic-Islamic and Judeo-Christian traditions. We invited papers on these issues and welcomed others that participants consider important and underrepresented in their own field of research.

Furthermore, to make the new results accessible to a wider audience, we are planning to publish the best, and possibly all, papers of the workshop in a collected volume in English. As for longer-distance plans, we would like to continue the collaboration, and invite further historians of alchemy who could not take part in this first workshop.