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History of Science Brown Bag

September 14, 2018 @ 12:00 pm - 1:00 pm

“”When Blood Became Chemical? Hormones and the “Crucial Experiment”

Patrick Walsh (incoming graduate student)

Friday, September 14, 2018
12:00 – 1:00 PM
Curti Lounge (Rm. 5233 Humanities Bldg.)

In June 1905, English physiologists William Bayliss and Ernest Starling coined the term ‘hormone’ in the prestigious Croonian Lectures to the Royal College of Physicians. Their series was titled The Chemical Correlation of Functions of the Body, and it explicated, for the first time, an independent and autonomous ‘chemical messenger’ of the human body—the ‘hormone’—which they claimed was ‘of an entirely different order of phenomena.’  Referring to ‘secretin’ of the pancreas, Starling famously announced: ‘These chemical messengers, however, or “hormones” (from opuaw, I excite or arouse), as we might call them, have to be carried from the organ where they are produced to the organ which they affect by means of the blood stream and the continually recurring physiological needs of the organism must determine their repeated production and circulation through the body.’

More than just a new term for bodily fluids, the ‘hormone’ is offered by Bayliss and Starling as a point of departure from nineteenth-century motifs, like ‘internal secretions’, ‘rejuvenation’ and ‘ductless glands’. In turn, the historical and medical literature treats the hormone as a new beginning in the history of physiology. It is a physiological agent which belongs firmly and determinedly to a twentieth-century culture of rational and discriminating science.

This paper investigates this acclaimed beginning of ‘hormone’ by unpacking Bayliss and Starling’s breakthrough experiment—The “Crucial Experiment”—which led to their discovery ‘of an entirely different order of phenomena’ in the blood. It finds surprising continuity and discontinuity between the ‘hormones’ and the ‘internal secretions,’ and it suggests a new paradigm for thinking about blood after 1905.

Future Brown Bags

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All Brown Bags are held in the Curti Lounge (Rm. 5233 Humanities Bldg.) from 12:00-1:00 PM on Fridays.


September 14, 2018
12:00 pm - 1:00 pm
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Curti Lounge (Rm 5243 Mosse Humanities Bldg)
455 N. Park St.
Madison, WI 53706 United States
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