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Dr Michael Bycroft

Michael Bycroft Office:
H017, ground floor of the Humanities Building
024 765 50442 (internal extension 50442)


Academic Profile

  • 2014-2017: Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship, University of Warwick
  • 2013-2014: Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Dupré Group, Max Planck Institute for the History of Science
  • 2013: PhD, History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge
  • 2008: MA, History and Philosophy of Science, University of Toronto, Canada
  • 2008: BA, History and Philosophy of Science, University of Canterbury, New Zealand
  • 2006: BSc, Physics and Mathematics, University of Canterbury, New Zealand


Michael Bycroft is a historian of early modern science with a focus on France and England and a particular interest in the role of materials in the development of the physical sciences. He studied at the Universities of Canterbury and Toronto before completing his doctorate at the University of Cambridge. In his dissertation, entitled “Physics and Natural History in the Eighteenth Century: the Case of Charles Dufay,” he argued that natural history made an important contribution to the experimental method of the French academician Charles Dufay (1698-1739). In 2013-14 he was a Post-doctoral Research Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin, in the research group “Art and Knowledge in Pre-Modern Europe.”

Michael's Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship project at the University of Warwick (2014-2017) is "Gems in the Early Modern World." This project consists in a monograph and a series of workshops.

The monograph is entitled "The Origins of Gemology: Gems, Jewellers and the Scientific Revolution." This monograph begins with the observation that precious and semi-precious stones were among most important kinds of object recognized by natural philosophers in early modern Europe. Yet gems have so far received much less attention from historians of science than related objects such as crystals, fossils and minerals. This project has two goals. Firstly, to examine the role of gems in natural history and experimental science in this period, paying particular attention to the relationship between these two kinds of inquiry. Secondly, to explore the links between scientists on the one hand and, on the other hand, craftsmen and merchants who had an interest in gems.

This monograph will be centred on four episodes in the development of the science of gems in France. The first of these episodes (1630-1680) is a flurry of Francophone voyages to India and the Near East that fed into a series of new texts dealing with the origin and properties of gems, including Robert Boyle's Essaye About the Origin and Virtues of Gems (1672). The second episode (1710-1750) is a programme of experimental research on gems carried out by Dufay and others at the Paris Academy of Sciences. The third episode (1740-1790) is the making of Georges Buffon's Histoire naturelle des minéraux, a book that included gemmological data drawn from many sources. Finally (1780-1830), René-Just Haüy led the creation of a new science of crystals that placed gems at centre stage and that had consequences for jewellers and lapidaries.

Michael’s other interests include the relationship between French and English scientists in the early modern period; the links between science and the rococo; and the fate of wondrous phenomena in the Enlightenment. He is also exercised by methodological issues in the history of science, including anachronism, the symmetry principle, the internal/external distinction, and the historiographical legacy of Thomas Kuhn; reflections on these topics can be found on his blog,

Selected publications

  • Bycroft, M. (2014). Dutour et le spath d'Islande: entre l’optique et la géologie. In Etienne-François Dutour de Salvert (1711-1789): un physicien auvergnat du XVIIIe siècle, ed. Pierre Crépel and Jean Ehrard (L’Harmattan, 2014).
  • Bycroft, M. (2014). Dutour et l'électricité: défendeur habile du système Nollet. In Etienne-François Dutour de Salvert (1711-1789): un physicien auvergnat du XVIIIe siècle, ed. Pierre Crépel and Jean Ehrard (L’Harmattan, 2014).
  • Bycroft, M. (2013). Wonders in the Academy: the value of strange facts in the experimental research of Charles Dufay. Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences, 43(3), 334-370.

A fuller list of Michael’s talks and publications can be found here: