The Nature of Blood

Nov 10, 2017 | Blog, Publications

Verwaal, Ruben E. “The Nature of Blood: Debating Haematology and Blood Chemistry in the Eighteenth-Century Dutch Republic”, Early Science and Medicine 22 (2017): 271–300.


What is blood? Despite William Harvey’s discovery of the circulation of blood, many questions about blood itself remained unanswered. This article asks how and why Dutch medical men in the early eighteenth century initiated studies to understand the properties of blood. Medical professors analysed blood in chemical laboratories, as they believed that blood chemistry promoted new understandings of human physiology and pathology. Others, however, grew to be deeply sceptical about chemistry and argued that there existed a discrepancy between blood in vitro and blood in vivo. They preferred quantitative measurements, hoping that these would provide useful knowledge for making diagnoses and treating wounds. This article analyses these competing approaches to blood research, arguing that the discussion went beyond the problem of methodology and was directly linked to the question of blood’s essential yet disputed quality: was blood alive?


blood – chemistry – haematology – medicine – Hieronymus Gaubius – Thomas Schwencke – Herman Boerhaave – Pierre Bordeu – Julien Offray de La Mettrie


Introduction – Lifeblood – Blood Chemistry – Haematology – Chemistry Contested – Conclusion


Groningen Research Institute for the Study of Culture, Oude Kijk in ’t Jatstraat 26, 9712 EK Groningen, The Netherlands. This paper is part of the “Vital Matters” research project funded by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). Early versions of this paper were presented in 2015 at the SHAC Spring Meeting in Cambridge, at the Huizinga Institute in The Netherlands, and at the annual meeting of the History of Science Society (HSS) in San Francisco. I am particularly grateful to Rina Knoeff, Raingard Esser, Catrien Santing, Hasok Chang, Charles Wolfe, and the two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on earlier versions of this paper.

You can read the entire article here.