From Topos to Oikos: The Standardization of Glass Containers as Epistemic Boundaries in Modern Laboratory Research (1850–1900)

Kijan Espahangizi
2015 Science in Context  
ArgumentGlass vessels such as flasks and test tubes play an ambiguous role in the historiography of modern laboratory research. In spite of the strong focus on the role of materiality in the last decades, the scientific glass vessel – while being symbolically omnipresent – has remained curiously neglected in regard to its materiality. The popular image ortoposof the transparent, neutral, and quasi-immaterial glass container obstructs the view of the physico-chemical functionality of this
more » ... lity of this constitutive inner boundary in modern laboratory environments and its material historicity. In order to understand how glass vessels were able to provide a stable epistemic containment of spatially enclosed experimental phenomena in the new laboratory ecologies emerging in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, I will focus on the history of thematerialstandardization of laboratory glassware. I will follow the rise of a new awareness for measurement errors due to the chemical agency of experimental glass vessels, then I will sketch the emergence of a whole techno-scientific infrastructure for the improvement of glass container quality in late nineteenth-century Germany. In the last part of my argument, I will return to the laboratory by looking at the implementation of this glass reform that created a newoikosfor the inner experimental milieus of modern laboratory research.
doi:10.1017/s0269889715000137 pmid:26256505 fatcat:xfvuiompp5dc5ifyz555fhqcga