Metabolism: Milk, Blood and Material Exchanges in the History of the Life Sciences (1620-1840)

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Metabolism: Milk, Blood and Material Exchanges in the History of the Life Sciences (1620-1840) is the title of a book expected to chronical the transformation of the ‘idea’ of milk over three centuries.

With support from the Family Larsson-Rosenquist Foundation (FLRF), Dr. Barbara Orland, from the Pharmacy Museum of the University of Basel, is investigating the history of scientific explanations of milk and how these changed societal perceptions and vice versa. It will include the following seven chapters:

• Chapter 1: White Blood and Red Milk – Metamorphoses in Humoral Medicine before 1628
• Chapter 2: Oeconomia animalis – Circulation Physiology and its Hydraulic Body Concept after 1628
• Chapter 3: The Covert Nature of Milk – Materiality in Natural History and Chemistry
• Chapter 4: Measuring Metabolism – From the Hydraulical to the Pneumatical Body
• Chapter 5: Milk as Materia Medica – Food and Medicine
• Chapter 6: Microscopic Textures and Building Blocks – The Chemico-Molecular Body Concept of the Industrial Age
• Epilogue: Milk: A Fluid between Sensual Perception and Technological Parameters

“Milk as the symbol of motherhood and fertility, white animal foods representing a healthy diet and 'naturalness' – during history milk has served for many purposes. And yet, there is nothing self-evident in the very nature of milk. Neither its materiality nor its properties or qualities are timeless, stable and unalterable. My book takes milk as an object that leads us through the history of the life sciences and tells us the story how we have changed our views of the human body and its needs.” – Barbara Orland, PD Dr. phil, Senior Scientist and Lecturer in History of Sciences at the Pharmacy Museum, University of Basel

Dr. Orland’s findings are expected to shed light on how milk was used as a nutrient and as a medicine from a historical point of view. The conclusions offered by this monograph could help researchers, healthcare providers, policymakers and communities gain a different perspective on milk, and shape future historical knowledge projects related to biomaterials. Though different in scope from the projects FLRF usually supports, this special project’s potential to fill crucial knowledge gaps prompted a unique donation from the Foundation of approximately CHF 69,000.

Further reading

Orland B. Der Mikrobiologe Elie Metchnikoff und der bulgarische Reform-Joghurt 1908, in: The faces of nutrition, Alimentarium-Magazine, 2/2018:

Orland B. Frischmilch-Krieg Die Entwicklung der deutschen Milchindustrie von 1870 bis 1914 am Beispiel Berlin, in: Alimentarium-Magazin 1/2014:

Orland B. Motherhood and Scientific Innovation: The Story of Natural versus Artificial Baby Food in the 19th Century. In: Waltraud Ernst, Ilona Horwath (eds.) Gender in Science and Technology – Interdisciplinary Approaches. Bielefeld, Germany: transcript Verlag; 2014. p.129–146.

Orland B. The fluid mechanics of nutrition: Herman Boerhaave’s synthesis of seventeenth-century circulation physiology. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences. 2012;43(2): 357–369.

Orland B. Verwandte Stoffe. Blut und Milch im Frauenkörper. L’Homme. 2010;21(2):71–80.
Orland B. Enlightened Milk: Reshaping a Bodily Substance into a Chemical Object. In: Klein, U./Spary, E. C. Materials and Expertise in Early Modern Europe. Chicago, USA: The University of Chicago Press; 2010. p.163–197.

Orland B. Bad Habits and Liquid Pleasures. Milk and the Alcohol Abstinence Movement in late 19th Century Germany. Food and History. 2007;5(2):153–169.

Orland B. Milchpropaganda vor und nach dem Ersten Weltkrieg. Konvergenzen zwischen Wissenschaft, Wirtschaft und Ernährungsreform. In: Rasch, M./Bleidick, D. (eds.) Technikgeschichte im Ruhrgebiet – Technikgeschichte für das Ruhrgebiet. Essen, Germany: Klartext-Verlag; 2004. p.909–933.