Robert Jacobus Forbes
Robert Jacobus Forbes or Robert James Forbes (21 April 1900, Breda – 13 January 1973, Haarlem) was a Dutch chemist and historian of science and professor in the history of applied science and technology at the University of Amsterdam.
In his days Forbes was internationally one of the best known and respected historian of technology, and recipient of the first Leonardo da Vinci Medal, the highest award by the Society for the History of Technology (SHOT).
- 1 Biography
- 2 Work
- 3 Selected publications
- 4 References
- 5 Further reading
- 6 External links
Family, youth and education
Forbes was born in Breda as son of William Forbes, a military engineer and later administrator at the Bataafse Petroleum Maatschappij, and Maria Sara Johanna (van Houten) Forbes. The Forbes family was of Scottish origin and a descendant of the Scottish theologian John Forbes of Corse. He spent much of his childhood in China, where he attended the Public School of the International Settlement in Shanghai.
Back in the Netherlands from 1912 to 1917 he attended the Hogere Burgerschool (HBS) in Leiden. From 1917 to 1923 he studied chemical technology at the Delft University of Technology, where he obtained his engineering degree.
From 1923 to 1958 Forbes worked for Royal Dutch Shell. The first two years he worked as chemist at the Shell Technology Centre Amsterdam. From 1925 to 1931 he worked in the Dutch East Indies as engineer at oil-refinery at Balikpapan, Borneo. After his return to the Netherlands in 1931 he did research about the application of asphalt in the construction of roads. In the later years he moved into the development of analytic methods, and participated in the Standardization Committee of the Institute of Petroleum in London. In his last three years from 1952 to 1955 he managed the scientific publication department, and wrote about the history of the Royal Dutch Shell.
In 1947 Forbes had also been appointed professor in the history of applied science and technology at the University of Amsterdam. After his retirement from Shell in 1958 he was secretary of the Koninklijke Hollandsche Maatschappij der Wetenschappen in Haarlem as successor of the late Johannes Abraham Bierens de Haan. In 1960 he was appointed professor in the history of physics and chemistry at the University of Amsterdam.
In 1953 Forbes was awarded an Honorary degree by the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology. He was appointed member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1959. The Newcomen Society awarded him the Dickinson Memorial Medal in 1960, and elected him Honorary President. In 1962 Forbes was awarded the first Leonardo da Vinci Medal by the Society for the History of Technology (SHOT).
As science historian Forbes wrote about the history of technology, particularly oil technology in the ancient world. In the 1930s he had studied the use of bitumen, asphalt, petroleum and building of roads in the Ancient world. Subsequently he had studied metals and mining from 1935 to 1950, and in between also ancient irrigation and water resource management in the years 1938 to 1941.
Forbes also wrote a book about Simon Stevin, describing Stevin's mill building and hydraulic engineering work. His work A history of science and technology, written with Eduard Dijksterhuis, proposed a synthesis of the history of science. In total Forbes published over thirty books and about two hundred articles.
History of ancient roads and their construction
In his youth Forbes had developed an interest in archaeology, which became of interest when he started to study the application of asphalt in the construction of roads at Shell in 1931. Under guidance of the Dutch archaeologist and orientalist Henri Frankfort, Forbes went to Iraq to collect samples of ancient mastic, which he analyzed in the Shell laboratory. This research first let to the 1934 publication of Notes on the history of ancient roads and their construction. This work was reviewed in multiple publications.
...five thousand years ago Sumerians, Mesopotamians and Egyptians made use of petroleum for several purposes. During this period, the inhabitants of Sumeria made use of asphalt to fix pictures and designs on walls and floors, while in Mesopotamia people used bitumen to help construct water canals. They also used it as sealant in the joints of wooden boats to enable hitch free water transportation...
According to Hassan (2013) Forbes had also pointed out, that "by 347 AD the Chinese local oil and gas industry had developed considerably, because oil wells up to 800 feet were being drilled using bits connected to bamboo poles."
Cooperation at the University of Amsterdam
At the University of Amsterdam he became befriended with David Cohen (1882–1967), professor of Ancient History, who became his mentor. He became supporter of the Allard Pierson Stichting with its Allard Pierson Museum, the archaeological museum of the University of Amsterdam, and joined the Vooraziatisch-Egyptisch Gezelschap Ex Oriente Lux. Their annual publication gave Forbes a forum to publish his work.
In Shell his historical work became known to its chairman Henri Deterding, who supported the publication of his work. With Deterding Shell supported the Allard Pierson Stichting, which initiated the chair for the history of applied science and technology at the University of Amsterdam in 1946 for Forbes.
Bibliographia Antiqua: Philosophia Naturalis 1940–1963
From 1940 to 1963 Forbes published his first book series, entitled Bibliographia Antiqua: Philosophia Naturalis, in 10 parts with 6 volumes and 2 supplementary volumes in Dutch. The subjects of these works were:
- 1. Mining and geology
- 2. Metallurgy
- 3/4. Building materials; Pottery, faience, glass, glaze, beads
- 5/8. Paints, pigments, varnishes, inks and their application; Leather, manufacture and application; Fibrous materials; Paper, papyrus, and other writing materials.
- 9. Man and nature
- 10. Science and technology
- Supplement I: 1940-1950
- Supplement II: 1950-1960
The latest work, Supplement II was reviewed by Eugene S. Ferguson 1964.
Studies in Ancient Technology, 1955–1964
From 1955 to 1964 Forbes published his second book series, entitled Studies in Ancient Technology, in nine volumes. This work was reprinted and new editions occurred from 1964 to 1993. The titles and subjects of the nine volumes are:
- Bitumen and petroleum in antiquity; the origin of alchemy; water supply
- Irrigation and drainage; Power; Land transport and road-building; The coming of the camel.
- Cosmetics and perfumes in antiquity; Food, alcoholic beverages, vinegar; Food in classical antiquity; Fermented beverages 500 B.C. - 1500 A.D.; Crushing; Salts, preservation processes, mummification; Paints, pigments, inks and varnishes.
- The fibres and fabrics of antiquity; Washing, bleaching, fulling and felting; Dyes and dyeing; Spinning; Sewing, basketry and weaving; Weaving and looms; Fabrics and weavers.
- Leather in antiquity; Sugar and its substitutes in antiquity; Glass.
- Heat and heating; Refrigeration, the art of cooling and producing cold; Light.
- Ancient geology; Ancient mining and quarrying; Ancient mining techniques.
- Metallurgy in antiquity, part 1; Early metallurgy, the smith and his tools, gold, silver and lead, zinc and brass.
- Metallurgy in antiquity, part 2; Copper and bronze, tin, arsenic, antimony and iron.
After the Second World War Forbes published multiple specialized and more general books on the history of technology and engineering, which received several reviews, such as:
- Short History of the Art of Distillation from the Beginnings up to the Death of Cellier Blumenthal (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1948)
- Man the Maker. A History of Technology and Engineering (New York: Henry Schuman, 1950)
- Studies in Early Petroleum History (Leiden: Brill, 1958.), and:
- More Studies in Early Petroleum History, 1860-1880 (Leiden: Brill, 1959.)
With E. J. Dijksterhuis in 1963 Forbes published a History of Science and Technology with Penguin Books in two volumes. The first volume covered Ancient Times to the Seventeenth Century, and the second the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries. Two of his latests works were The principal works of Simon Stevin published in 1966, and The Conquest of Nature: Technology and Its Consequences published in 1968.
- Forbes, Robert James. Bitumen and petroleum in antiquity. 1936.
- Forbes, Robert James. Bibliographia Antiqua: Philosophia Naturalis. 10 volumes and 2 supplements, 1940–1963.
- Forbes, Robert James. Metallurgy in antiquity: a notebook for archaeologists and technologists. Brill Archive, 1950.
- Forbes, Robert James. Studies in Ancient Technology. Vol. 1-9. Brill Archive, 1955-64.
- Forbes, Robert James, and Eduard Jan Dijksterhuis. A history of science and technology. Vol. 1. Penguin books, 1963.
- Forbes, Robert J. A short history of the art of distillation: from the beginnings up to the death of Cellier Blumenthal. Brill, 1970.
- Articles, a selection
- Forbes, Robert James. "Short history of the art of distillation." British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 3 (11):273-275 (1952).
- Forbes, Robert James. "Metallurgy in antiquity." Studies in Ancient Technology VIII. Leiden. 1971.
- Homburg, E., (2013). "Robert James Forbes (1900–1973) – chemicus-archeoloog, techniekhistoricus, wetenschapshistoricus." Studium. 6(3-4), pp.276–281. DOI: http://doi.org/10.18352/studium.9291
- Snelders, Harry A.M. (1973); "Forbes, Robert Jacobus (1900-1973)." Biografisch Woordenboek van Nederland, 1973.
- Lefebvre, E., and de Bruijn, J.G. " Obituary: Professor R. J. Forbes (12 April 1900--13 January 1973). British journal for the history of science, Vol. 6, Nr. 4, (December 1973), p. 462. doi:10.1017/S0007087400012796
- "Prof. dr. ir. RJ Forbes, 1900 - 1973," at albumacademicum.uva.nl. Accessed 2017-09-09.
- Forbes, R.J. Notes on the History of Ancient Roads and Their Construction. Amsterdam: Uitgeversmij, 1934. Print, OCLC 406562923; 2nd ed., Amsterdam: Adolf M. Hakkert, 1964. OCLC 484066898.
- Reviewed by Jotham Johnson in American Journal of Archaeology 39, #3 (July–September 1935), pp. 427-428, JSTOR 498643.
- Reviewed by C. E. Stevens in The Classical Review 49, #2 (May 1935), p. 87, JSTOR 699882.
- Reviewed by I. A. Richmond in The Journal of Roman Studies 25 (1935), pp. 113-114, JSTOR 296571.
- "Forbes, Robert James. Bitumen and petroleum in antiquity. Reviewed by K. C. Bailey," in: The Classical Review, 50, #6 (December 1936), p. 243, JSTOR 705523.
- Hassan, Aminu. "Review of the global oil and gas industry: a concise journey from ancient time to modern world." Petroleum Technology Development Journal 3 (2) (2013). p. 126
- Forbes, Robert J. Bibliographia antiqua: Philosophia naturalis : 1, Mijnbouw en geologie : nos 1 - 612 Leiden: Nederlandsch Inst. van het Nabije Oosten, 1940. Print 1960, OCLC 633867196.
- Forbes, Robert J. Bibliographia antiqua philosophia naturalis ... A.D. 1939, [Fasc. 2]. 2, Metallurgie : N0 613-4130. Leiden: Nederlandsch Instituut van het Nabije Oosten, 1942. Print, OCLC 490547084.
- Forbes, Robert J. Bibliographia antiqua: Philosophia naturalis : [- 1960]. 3/4, Bouwmaterialien. Aardewerk, faience, glas, glazuur, siersteenen : nos 4131 - 4423. nos 4424 - 4895. Leiden: Nederlandsch Inst. van het Nabije Oosten, 1944. Print, OCLC 632730737.
- Forbes, Robert J. Bibliographia antiqua: Philosophia naturalis : [- 1960]. 5/8, Verven, kleurstoffen, vernissen, inkten en hunne toepassing. Leder, bereiding en toepassing. Vezelstoffen, grondstoffen en industrie. Papier, papyrus en ander schrijfmateriaal : nos 4938 - 5198. nos 5199 - 5236. nos 5237 - 5544. nos 5545 - 5641. Leiden: Nederlandsch Inst. van het Nabije Oosten, 1949. Print, OCLC 632730763.
- Forbes, Robert J. Bibliographia antiqua philosophia naturalis ... A.D. 1939, [Fasc. 5]. 9, Mens en Natuur : No 5642-7972. Leiden: Nederlandsch Institut van het Nabije Oosten, 1949. Print, OCLC 490554078.
- Forbes, Robert J. Bibliographia antiqua, Philosophia naturalis. 10, Wetenschap en techniek = Wissenschaft und Technik = Science and technology = Science et technologie : A.D. 1939, 7973-10751. Leiden: Nederlandsch Instituut voor het nabije oosten, 1950. Print, OCLC 496323084.
- Forbes, R J. Bibliographia antiqua : philosophia naturalis Supplement 1. Leiden: Nederlandsch Instituut voor het Nabije Oosten, 1952. Print, OCLC 246384641.
- Forbes, R J. Bibliographia antiqua : philosophia naturalis Supplement 2. Leiden: Nederlandsch Instituut voor het Nabije Oosten, 1963. Print, OCLC 247974498.
- Eugene S. Ferguson, Technology and Culture, 5, #4 (Autumn 1964), pp. 639-640, JSTOR 3101244.
- Forbes, Robert J. Studies in Ancient Technology: The Origin of Alchemy : Water Supply. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1955. Print, OCLC 418456604; Second ed., 1964. Print, OCLC 180355272; Third ed., 1993, ISBN 90-04-00621-4.
- Forbes, Robert J. Studies in Ancient Technology: Power : Land Transport and Road-Building : the Coming of the Camel. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1955. Print, OCLC 418456689; Second rev. ed., 1965. Print, OCLC 180355312. Third ed. (reprint of second ed.), 1993, ISBN 90-04-00622-2.
- Forbes, Robert J. Studies in Ancient Technology: Food, Alcohlic Beverages, Vinegar : Food in Classical Antiquity : Fermented Beverages 500 B.c. - 1500 A.d. Crushing, Salts, Preservation Processeo, Mummification : Paints Pigments, Inks and Varnishes. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1955. Print, OCLC 418456736; Second ed., 1965. Print, OCLC 310479493; Third ed., 1993, ISBN 90-04-00623-0.
- Forbes, Robert J. Studies in Ancient Technology: Washing, Bleaching, Fulling and Felting : Dyes and Dyeing Spinning : Sewing, Basketry and Weaving and Looms : Fabrics and Weaters. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1956. Print, OCLC 418456783; 1964. Print, OCLC 27718678 ; Second rev. ed., 1964, reprinted 1987, ISBN 90-04-08307-3.
- Forbes, Robert J. Studies in Ancient Technology: Sugar and Its Substitutes in Antiquity : Glass. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1957. Print, OCLC 418456854; Second rev. ed., 1966, ISBN 90-04-00625-7.
- Forbes, Robert J. Studies in Ancient Technology: Refrigeration, the Art of Cooling and Producing Cold, Light. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1958. Print, OCLC 418456904; Second rev. ed., 1966, ISBN 90-04-00626-5.
- Forbes, Robert J. Studies in Ancient Technology: Ancient Mining and Quarrying and Quarrying : Ancien Minig Techniques. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1963. Print, OCLC 418456980; Second rev. ed., 1966, ISBN 90-04-00627-3.
- Forbes, Robert J. Studies in Ancient Technology: Ancient Mining and Quarrying and Quarrying : Metallurgy in antiquity, part 1; Early metallurgy, the smith and his tools, gold, silver and lead, zinc and brass. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1964. Second rev. ed., 1971, ISBN 90-04-02652-5.
- Forbes, Robert J. Metallurgy in antiquity, part 2; Copper and bronze, tin, arsenic, antimony and iron, Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1964. Second rev. ed., 1972, ISBN 90-04-03487-0.
- Review of vol. 1 by W. C. Brice in Man 56 (April 1956), p. 62, JSTOR 2793666
- Review of vols. 2 and 3 by H. H. Coghlan in Man 56 (September 1956), pp. 125-126, JSTOR 2794973.
- Review of vols. 1-3 by Lynn White, Jr. in Isis 48, #1 (March 1957), p. 77, JSTOR 226906.
- Review of vol. 5 by R. J. Gettens in American Journal of Archaeology 63, #3 (July 1959), p. 285, JSTOR 501852.
- Review of vol. 6 by Lynn White, Jr. in Isis 51, #2 (June 1960), pp. 227-228, JSTOR 226869.
- Review of vols. 1-6 by W. F. Leemans in "Some Marginal Remarks on Ancient Technology", Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 3, #2 (August 1960), pp. 217-237, JSTOR 3596297.
- Review of vol. 7 by J. R. Harris in Isis 56, #1 (Spring 1965), pp. 90-92, JSTOR 228469.
- Review of vol. 7 by W. F. Leemans in Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 7, #2 (July 1964), pp. 206-208, JSTOR 3596242.
- Review of vols. 8 and 9 by H. Limet in Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 9, #3 (December 1966), pp. 309-313, JSTOR 3595950.
- Reviewed by Frederick O. Koenig in Isis 41, #1 (March 1950), pp. 131-133, JSTOR 226410.
- Reviewed by Cyril Stanley Smith in Isis, 42, #1 (April 1951), pp. 79-80, JSTOR 226692.
- Reviewed by Warren C. Scoville in The Journal of Economic History, 11, #2 (Spring 1951), pp. 196-197, JSTOR 2113154.
- Reviewed by H. T. Pledge in The British Journal of Sociology 2, #4 (December 1951), pp. 369-370, JSTOR 588096.
- Reviewed by John W. Oliver in Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 273 (January 1951), pp. 265-266, JSTOR 1026492.
- Reviewed by William F. Ogburn in American Sociological Review 15, #6 (December 1950), pp. 829-830, JSTOR 2086637.
- Forbes, Robert J. Studies in Early Petroleum History: With 16 Pl. and 32 Fig. Leiden: Brill, 1958. Print, OCLC 300163270.
- Reviewed by A. G. Drachmann in Isis 50, #4 (December 1959), pp. 498-499, JSTOR 226446.
- Forbes, R J. More Studies in Early Petroleum History, 1860-1880. Leiden: Brill, 1959. Print, OCLC 475921416.
- Reviewed by F. Klemm in Isis 52, #3 (September 1961), pp. 437-438, JSTOR 228097.
- Reviewed, with Studies in Early Petroleum History, by Martin Levey in Technology and Culture 2, #1 (Winter 1961), pp. 55-57, JSTOR 3101308.
- Reviewed, with Studies in Early Petroleum History, by Kendall Beaton in The Business History Review 34, #1 (Spring 1960), pp. 130-131, JSTOR 3111792.
- "Forbes, Robert, James and E. J. Dijksterhuis, History of Science and Technology Reviewed by J. Morton Briggs, Jr.", Isis 55, #1 (March 1964), pp. 101-102, JSTOR 227767.
- Forbes, R.J. The Conquest of Nature: Technology and Its Consequences. New York: Praeger, 1968. Print, OCLC 301300776.
- H. Gabriëls, "Ter herdenking – prof. dr. ir. R.J. Forbes," De Ingenieur 85 (20) (17 mei 1973) 407–409. (with bibliography).
- Rupert Hall, A. (1976); Robert James Forbes (1900-1973). Archives internationales d'histore des sciences, 26 (1976), pp. 160-162.
- White, Lynn Townsend Jr. (1974); "Robert James Forbes (1900-1973)." Technology and Culture, 15, #3 (July 1974), pp. 438-439.
- Wittop Koning, D.A. (1975); "Robert James Forbes, *Breda 21-4-1900, † Haarlem, 13-1-1973," Janus, 62 (1975), pp. 217-221. Complete Bibliography on pages 221-233.