CFP: Instruments & arts of inquiry: natural history, natural magic and the production of knowledge in early modern Europe


Editors: Dana Jalobeanu, Cesare Pastorino


The second half of the sixteenth-century saw the growing popularity of accounts detailing instrumental practices and experimental recipes in at least two emerging (and extremely popular) fields: natural magic and the tradition of the books of secrets. A typical example of this cultural phenomenon was the influential work of Giambattista della Porta. By the beginning of seventeenth-century, experimental practices and instruments became equally popular in natural history. In fact, almost the same period saw the transformation – in the works of Francis Bacon – of the traditional bookish discipline of natural history into a collaborative, experimental and practically oriented study of nature.


What was the relation between these apparently parallel transformations taking place in these subjects? Does it make sense to think that the Baconian transformation of natural history from a “science of describing” to an experimental and practically oriented discipline was influenced by the technologies and “recipes” elaborated by the practitioners of natural magic and the “Secrets” tradition? How about other forms of natural history? Did the “wonderful” instruments and “magical” techniques so common in the books of secrets “migrated” into more “sober,” more systematic works of natural history? Or, to put it in a different way, did natural historians borrow their instruments, technologies and practices from natural magicians and authors of secrets? And, if so, what were the mechanisms behind such borrowings?


This special issue of the Journal of Early Modern Studies seeks papers exploring the intersections between the disciplines of natural history, natural magic and the books of secrets tradition in the early modern period. We are particularly interested in the various ways in which texts and practices in the tradition of natural magic and the books of secrets were absorbed, transformed and integrated in the renovated natural histories of the seventeenth century.


JEMS is an interdisciplinary, peer-reviewed journal of intellectual history, dedicated to the exploration of the interactions between philosophy, science and religion in Early Modern Europe. It aims to respond to the growing awareness within the scholarly community of an emerging new field of research that crosses the boundaries of the traditional disciplines and goes beyond received historiographic categories and concepts.


JEMS publishes high-quality articles reporting results of research in intellectual history, history of philosophy and history of early modern science, with a special interest in cross-disciplinary approaches. It furthermore aims to bring to the attention of the scholarly community as yet unexplored topics, which testify to the multiple intellectual exchanges and interactions between Eastern and Western Europe during the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.


JEMS is edited by the Research Centre “Foundations of Modern Thought”, University of Bucharest (, and published and distributed by Zeta Books (