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4. Topics: History of Chemistry & Teaching [Prof. Palmer, Australia]

Start Date:
23. June 2015, 14:00
Finish date:
23. June 2015, 14:45
MESHS - Room 1



Autobiography, biobibliography and directions for research: a history


Abstract Course

The aim of this paper is to explain how I have become interested in the lives and works of lesser known scientists, often school text book writers and to amplify the three main projects that I am able to pursue from my own resources. My doctoral thesis entitled ‘A study of teaching and learning about the paradoxical concept of physical and chemical change’ completed in 2003, but started a decade earlier, was the main incentive for my increased interest in the history of science.  Much of the thesis related to the stories of the lives of chemists and of the contents of the text books that they wrote. The three current projects are:

  • (i) Choosing school text book writers who are not too well known, but who have interesting lives and writing their bio-bibliographies. One method that I use to find which  text book writers to choose is to write brief bio-bibliographies of all the writers who wrote books entitled ‘The elements of chemistry’ in a fixed period of thirty years or so. This provides information for future years of suitable chemists.
  • (ii) In the USA, between about 1880 and 1950, most major chemistry textbooks had student practical manuals that were associated with them. These practical manuals were the property of individuals and they contain massive amounts of chemistry where students have performed experiments and written their results into their practical manuals. Each manual is examined to find student alternative conceptions (misconceptions) for concepts related to physical and chemical change one of the elements such as oxygen or hydrogen. I have about 300 practical manuals containing student writing which allows me to check student alternative conceptions historically.
  • (iii) My third area of study is of ‘Little Blue Books’ produced by Emanuel Haldeman-Julius at his printery at Girard in Kansas. There are more than 2000 titles produced with more than 500 million being produced altogether which sold at five cents each mainly between 1920 and 1950. A good proportion of them were about subjects in the High School curriculum and these books were so cheap and so widespread that it is my belief that they were a major influence on American education. I have thus produced bio-bibliographies of some of  Haldeman-Julius’ team of writers.

These projects keep me busy with a variety of historical scientific research in my retirement.