Matters of Exchange


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Commerce, Medicine, and Science in the Dutch Golden Age

Harold J. Cook

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A new and unexpected history of the Dutch pursuit of commerce in the 16th and 17th centuries and how it triggered the Scientific Revolution

In this wide-ranging and stimulating book, a leading authority on the history of medicine and science presents convincing evidence that Dutch commerce—not religion—inspired the rise of science in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Harold J. Cook scrutinizes a wealth of historical documents relating to the study of medicine and natural history in the Netherlands and elsewhere in Europe, Brazil, South Africa, and Asia during this era, and his conclusions are fresh and exciting. He uncovers direct links between the rise of trade and commerce in the Dutch Empire and the flourishing of scientific investigation. Cook argues that engaging in commerce changed the thinking of Dutch citizens, leading to a new emphasis on such values as objectivity, accumulation, and description. The preference for accurate information that accompanied the rise of commerce also laid the groundwork for the rise of science globally, wherever the Dutch engaged in trade. Medicine and natural history were fundamental aspects of this new science, as reflected in the development of gardens for both pleasure and botanical study, anatomical theaters, curiosity cabinets, and richly illustrated books about nature. Sweeping in scope and original in its insights, this book revises previous understandings of the history of science and ideas.

Harold J. Cook is director of the Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine and professor at University College London. He lives in London.

"Cook challenges existing interpretations of the rise of science during the early modern period and provides an immensely informative overview of science and medicine in the Dutch Golden Age."—Mark Harrison, University of Oxford

"Matters of Exchange is a magisterial book linking science and commerce. From now on, 'the Scientific Revolution' has a Dutch accent."—Mary E. Fissell, Johns Hopkins University

"In this ground-breaking book, Professor Cook investigates the way in which the unprecedented growth in global knowledge in the Netherlands in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries accompanied, and reflected the rapid expansion of the Dutch global commercial empire. Meticulously tracking the relations between these two areas of activity, Cook argues vividly and convincingly that in the case of medicine, commerce and the rise of a recognisable modern practice went hand in hand, and that, in general, across Europe, a new global economy marked the beginnings of science as we know it. A book of real importance for all cultural historians and historians of science of the early modern period."—Lisa Jardine, Director of the Centre for Editing Lives and Letters, and Centenary Professor of Renaissance Studies, Queen Mary, University of London


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"Cook is the author of an impressive series of carefully researched studies focusing on the relationship in the 17th and 18th centuries between what he calls 'the new philosophy' and medical science and between medicine and natural history. . . . Matters of Exchange is a book that will undoubtedly be fruitful, not least in stimulating fresh debate about the sources of the scientific revolution and the exact role of the strict empiricism so cherished by the Dutch and so famously theorized by Locke."—Jonathan I. Israel, Science

"Drawing on nearly twenty years of research, Matters of Exchange is a dense, scholarly, fascinating book, packed with information and full of marvellous stories about cultural exchange between different cultures, and containing at its heart an important but complicated argument about the roots of scientific objectivity and the rise of the global trade.  It is a huge, if slightly daunting achievement, but it will undoubtedly become a standard work for anyone interested in the Dutch Golden Age."---Jerry Brotton, BBC History Magazine

"Cook, who mastered the Dutch language to study original sources, tells many stories in great detail, with numerous plots and subplots. . . . This is altogether an enriching tome."—New England Journal of Medicine

"...a collector's delight that enriches our understanding of the travels, trade and translations that made the Golden Age possible." -- Lissa Roberts, History Today

"Cook's magnificent volume traces . . . the complex web of accumulation and exchange of knowledge, materials, commodities, and values that revolutionized human perception and understanding of the natural world. . . . Cook is deeply persuasive that science and commerce are epistemologically linked through materialist necessity in this magisterial scholarly analysis, which is beautifully narrated. . . . [A] massively erudite account of Dutch global commerical expansion."—Dorothy Porter, JAMA

'At every stage of Matters of Exchange: Commerce, medicine and science in the Dutch Golden Age, Cook looks beyond the facts from which his thesis is started, to the moral philosophy, culture and religious changes and tensions which influenced the impact of the new approach.'  - Elizabeth Edwards, Times Literary Supplement

'...Cook's history is not another morality play, about exploitation and rapine.  It is a subtle study of ambivalence and motivation, especially where Dutch companies -- the agents of conquest and expropriation - conveyed useful and accurate information back to Europe.'  - Larry Stewart, The Lancet

"The author is to be congratulated and the book should be read and consulted for its orientation towards and its important case study of the 'rise of modern science' in the context of the development of knowledge and the culture of an exchange and global economy in the Dutch republic in the seventeenth century."—George Bryan Souza, Social History of Science

"A considerable scholarly achievement."—Steven Shapin, London Review of Books

"This is a very important book. Its thesis is as simple as it is elegant: Dutch commerce in the seventeenth century served as a chief impetus for the rise of modern medical science. . . . The book's meticulous scholarship is exemplary, combining historiographical depth with a fine display of human detail. . . . Matters of Exchange has directed our attention to the invaluable role of the Dutch urban commercial system in the rise of science. If only for this achievement, it deserves to become a modern classic."—Wijnand Mijnhardt, Isis

"...meticulously detailed... a considerable scholarly achievement."--- Steven Shapin, London Review of Books

"This thought-provoking book will win admiration for its boldness in calling for renewed scrutiny of the economics of exchange as both motivation and agent of change in intellectual culture. . . . Matters of Exchange offers an expansive argument for reexamining our own historical subjects with an eye toward the interplay of economic, moral, and epistemological factors in the quest for natural knowledge."—Jole Shackelford, Renaissance Quarterly

"Broad-ranging. . . . A spirited synthesis of a large and rambling literature."—Jan de Vries, American Historical Review

"I am not aware of anyone, until Harold Cook, who has pointed out so clearly that the shift in ways of understanding and knowing that drove the scientific revolution were the same changes in seeking knowledge that made possible the rise of a capitalist world economy. . . . The story is complex, and Harold Cook tells it with great skill."—Donald J. Harreld, Canadian Journal of History

"What an adventure it is for the reader as Cook skilfully captains us across the globe. . . . A strikingly good and strikingly original scholarly accomplishment, as well as a beautifully produced and reasonably priced volume."—Mary Lindemann, Medical History

"With impressive range and lucidity, Cook challenges long-standing interpretations while he simultaneously undertakes complex contextual investigations of particular episodes."—Pamela O. Long, Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences

Matters of Exchange is an important book. It expertly weaves together the micro-historical slant of recent history of science with the larger questions of global history. Readers may choose to approach it as an encyclopaedic handbook of seventeenth-century Dutch science, or as a theoretical argument about the core of modern science. In either case, they will find its careful perusal a highly rewarding pursuit.” - Daniel Margocsy, Nuncius, Vol. XXIII, 2

"Rarely does a book combine the history of science and medicine effectively, complement both with an extensive treatment of botany and natural history, shed new light on Descartes (as well as Bernard Mandeville), and at the same time set the Dutch Republic in a European and global context. Harold Cook has written what will become a classic in the field."—Margaret C. Jacob, Journal of Modern History

"Effective and important...An excellent coverage of key features of the Dutch Golden Age."--Steven Paul Matthews, Journal of World History

“….a magnificent narrative of the development of medicine and natural history in the seventeenth-century Dutch Republic….His view will have to be incorporated into any new history of the rise of modern science.”—Rienk Vermij, European History Quarterly 41 (2)

Gold medal winner for the 2007 ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Award in the History category.

Winner of the 2008 Recognition of Excellence Award at the Cundill International Prize in History ceremony, given by the Cundill Foundation at McGill University.

Commended for the 2008 Medical Book Award in the Medicine category, sponsored by the British Medical Association. 

Winner of the 2009 Pfizer Prize, given by the History of Science Society.
ISBN: 9780300143218
Publication Date: September 23, 2008
576 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
60 b/w illus.