Entire issue of ”Annals of Science” dedicated to noted Professor Alan Rocke

Alan RockeIt’s rare when an entire academic journal is dedicated to a single scholar. But Annals of Science did just that, devoting a recent issue to the contributions of Alan Rocke, Case Western Reserve University’s Henry Eldridge Bourne Professor of History and Distinguished University Professor.

The journal acknowledges his work from the issue’s opening statement: “Historians of chemistry are indebted to Alan Rocke’s prolific and groundbreaking scholarship on nineteenth century chemistry.”

The special issue on “Atomism and Organic Chemistry in Context” features six essays by some of Rocke’s fellow scholars in the history of science field that reflect on the influence of his scholarly contributions about German, French and British chemists.

Many of the essays explore topics Rocke wrote about in his books: Image & Reality: Kekulé, Kopp, and the Scientific Imagination (University of Chicago Press, 2010), From the Molecular World: A Nineteenth Century Science Fantasy (Springer, 2012), The Quiet Revolution: Herman Kolbe and the Science of Organic Chemistry (University of California Press, 1993), and Nationalizing Science: Adolphe Wurtz and the Battle for French Chemistry (The MIT Press, 2000).

The special issue of the journal is a variation on what the Germans call a Festschrift, which celebrates and honors a scholar’s long career.

Rocke said he was flattered and pleased that his friends in the field made this gesture. “It’s an honor that doesn’t happen often,” he said.

The idea for the journal dedication began when Truman State University Professor Peter J. Ramberg realized Rocke had turned 65 in 2013. Ramberg organized a special birthday celebration session at the 2013 History of Science Society—sponsored by the Commission on the History of Modern Chemistry and the Forum for the History of the Chemical Sciences—that focused on Rocke’s writings and research.

With help from Mary Jo Nye, professor emerita of history from Oregon State University, Ramberg convinced the editors of Annals of Science to devote an entire issue to Rocke’s scholarship as gratitude for his work.

Nye defined Rocke as one of the most distinguished scholars in the history of chemistry and of science. “His work exemplifies the best practices of the historical craft, and his articles and books in the history of chemistry have set the standard for all the field,” she said.

More specifically, Roald Hoffmann, the 1981 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry from Cornell University, described how Rocke illustrated changes that impacted chemistry in a major way during the mid-19th century.

“It was during that time when chemists first saw that macroscopic transformations of one substance into another might be related to a microscopic arrangement of atoms in molecules,” Hoffmann said.

That process was not linear, Hoffmann explained, which was how philosophers of science thought such transformations were done.

“How they did it, how they got to knowing without seeing, is what Alan has managed to reconstruct,” Hoffmann said, adding that Rocke’s knowledge of literature from that period and writing about figures of that time have been amazing.

Rocke earned a chemistry degree at Beloit College in Wisconsin in 1969. He continued his interest in chemistry, but from the perspective of a historian, as he earned a master’s (1973) and PhD (1975) in the history of science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He has been on the Case Western Reserve faculty since 1978.