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Re-entangling the Thermometer: Cornelis Drebbel’s Description of his Self-regulating Oven, the Regiment of Fire, and the Early History of Temperature

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A new, illustrated source, “Drebbel’s Description of his Circulating Oven,” sheds light on the thermostatic oven of Cornelis Drebbel (1572-1633), a Dutch alchemist, engineer, and philosopher active in Holland, Zeeland, London and Prague. The “Description” survives in two German copies. It describes two new inventions, a “Judicium” (which we might call a thermometer) and a “Regimen” (which we might call a feedback control mechanism). It thus engages longstanding debates concerning the invention of the thermometer. More fundamentally, it engages the relationship of artisanality and philosophy. The “Description” highlights the entangled origins of both instruments, which emerged through combined concerns of alchemy, engineering, philosophy, and natural magic. In the early seventeenth century, the term “thermometer” indicated an object with a more expansive role than it later would. The later emergence of a distinct scientific instrument industry, separating previously entangled roles, has colored subsequent views of such instruments and their makers.

Affiliations: 1: Robert D. Clark Honors College, University of Oregon, USA,


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