I am a Departmental Lecturer in History of Science in the History Faculty. Prior to this I was the recipient of a Wellcome Trust Research Postdoctoral Fellowship in Medical History and Humanities at the University of Oxford (2013-2017). My first book, An Alchemical Quest for Universal Knowledge: The ‘Christian Philosophy’ of Jan Baptist Van Helmont (1579-1644) was published in 2016 by Routledge. A co-edited book (with Tim Rudbøg, University of Copenhagen), Innovation in Esotericism from the Renaissance to the Present, was published in 2021 by Palgrave Macmillan.
In addition to being a Wellcome Research Fellow, I have been short-term Vossius Fellow, University of Amsterdam (the Netherlands), Worth Library Fellow, Dublin (Ireland), Postdoctoral Fellow, Herzog August Bibliothek Wolfenbüttel (Germany), Robert W. Allington Fellow, Chemical Heritage Foundation (USA), and Frances A. Yates Short-Term Fellow, Warburg Institute, London (UK).
I concluded my PhD in 2012 at the University of Exeter, on the topic of Van Helmont’s Christian philosophy. Prior to this I completed two Masters degrees (Western Esotericism and Project Management) at the University of Exeter and University of Leeds, and two BAs in History and Economics (Summa cum Laude) at the University of Nevada, USA.
My research covers history of science and medicine, intellectual history and history of esotericism, with a concentration on early modern Europe. My focus is on the history of alchemy and alchemical medicine. I am particularly interested in uncovering the importance of alchemical thought and practice to the pre-modern period.
My current research branches out in several directions. I am researching the influence of Jan Baptist Van Helmont on the project of Eastern Orthodox reformation of knowledge developed by the Romanian prince Demetrius Cantemir (1673-1723). In this context, I am working with a team at the University of Bucharest on the translation of Cantemir's manuscript De Sacro-sanctae Scientiae Indepingibilis Imago (On the Undepictable Image of the Sacrosanct Science, 1699). The project also involves disentangling the cross-cultural networks of intellectual communication that developed in the Mediterranean during this period, and analysing how crossing the national, religious and linguistic boundaries altered the discourse of knowledge reformation.
As an output of my Wellcome Trust Fellowship, I am in the course of finalising a book tentatively titled The Pursuit of Universal Medicine in Early Modern Alchemy. I continue to develop earlier insights in the subjects of immortality and radical prolongation of life, expanding my research in a global and long duree perspective. I am particularly interested in the comparison and contrast of Eastern and Western views on immortality. My approach is cross-disciplinary, investigating the subject from the perspective of philosophy, science, literature, mythology and art.
I am also working on alchemical laboratories and medical recipes with a focus on the fonderie of the Medici family in Florence and, more generally, Italian alchemy. Other research directions include Paracelsus and Paracelsianism, alchemical philosophy, poisons, matter and materials, embodiment and lived experience, theories of reproduction and generation, the human and the superhuman, and the production of ideas out of matter. I am also keen on employing digital methods to research and communication of research.
You can follow me on Twitter @johedesan