Sinopse (em inglês)
The notion of Biographies of Scientific Objects (Daston ed. Biographies of Scientific Objects. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.2000) is highly suitable for chemicals, since one distinctive feature of the chemists’ approach to nature is that they consider the individual materials rather than the general properties of matter. A biography of carbon, a familiar and ubiquitous element, the building brick of life, and of civilisation instantiates the entanglement of the histories of materials and civilisation.
In sketching the profile of a biography of carbon, this paper will raise and discuss two historiographical issues:
- What is the birth date of carbon ? Is it when carbon atoms were formed in interstellar clouds after the Big Bang or when chemists coined the term ‘carbon’ to refer to the substance shared by coal, diamond and fixed air? Should the narrative follow the trajectories of carbon atoms through the universe or tell the story of our understanding of carbon (its structure, its functions, its cycles,) and of the variety of uses of carbon compounds in our civilization?
- Given the variety of carbon allotropes – diamond, graphite, charcoal, fullerenes, nanotubes - and of carbon compounds can we display them as various personae evercreating new adventures that shape the history of the Earth and human history? Since one of the names of carbon – graphite – refers to the act of writing (graphein), I will suggest that the various forms of carbon can be viewed as heteronyms of carbon. Just as the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa had various “heteronyms” signing fictions, carbon has several signatures for telling various stories interweaving human history, natural history and cosmic processes.