Simon Werrett

Fireworks: Pyrotechnic Arts and Sciences in European History book cover
Fireworks: Pyrotechnic Arts and Sciences in European History (University of Chicago Press, 2010)
Tuesday, November 2, 2010 - 4:00pm
Communications 202

Fireworks are synonymous with celebration in the twenty-first century. But pyrotechnics—in the form of rockets, crackers, wheels, and bombs—have exploded in sparks and noise to delight audiences in Europe ever since the Renaissance. Simon Werrett shows that, far from being only a means of entertainment, fireworks helped foster advances in natural philosophy, chemistry, mathematics, and many other branches of the sciences.

Fireworks bring to vibrant life the many artful practices of pyrotechnicians, as well as the elegant compositions of the architects, poets, painters, and musicians they inspired. At the same time, it uncovers the dynamic relationships that developed between the many artists and scientists who produced pyrotechnics. In so doing, the book demonstrates the critical role that pyrotechnics played in the development of physics, astronomy, chemistry and physiology, meteorology, and electrical science. Richly illustrated and drawing upon a wide range of new sources, Fireworks takes readers back to a world where pyrotechnics were both divine and magical and reveals for the first time their vital contribution to the modernization of European ideas.

Simon Werrett is Associate Professor of the History of Science and Technology in the Department of History at the University of Washington. Aside from exploring pyrotechnics use in Europe, his other research focuses heavily on the development of observatory technology in nineteenth-century Russia. Previous publications include The Astronomical Capital of the World: Pulkovo Observatory in the Russia of Tsar Nicholas I and Enlightenment in Russian Hands: The Inventions and Identity of Ivan Kulibin in Eighteenth-Century St. Petersburg. Currently, Werrett is looking to understand the influences of recycling throughout history by exploring how different cultures of recycling may have changed the development of science and medicine from the seventeenth to the twenty-first centuries.