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Article

From a Natural Object to a Medical Resource: The Production of Knowledge about Petroleum by J.J. Lerche

Lisitsyna E.

As the main tasks of the 18thcentury Russian medicine were the support of the army and navy, and the protection of the empire from the massive diseases, the regular research of local medical phenomena and resources is not clearly distinguished.  The present paper attempts to reveal the ways of medical knowledge production and communication through the consideration of crude oil exploration by a Prussian physician in Russian service, Johann Jacob Lerche (1708–1780). Although both his extensive medical activities over different areas of the Russian empire and extensive written heritage drew only fragmentary scholars’ attention, they reflect the great experience of the physician on the research of naturaliawhile performing his professional duties. Crude oil was one of the most remarkable mineral wonders of the Pre‑Caspian region, visited by Lerche twice (1732–1735, 1745–1747). On the basis of three published accounts by Lerche, which contain information on petroleum qualities and its practical significance, the author investigates, how the Baku crude oil as a natural object was invented as a medical resource by an 18thcentury state physician in the Russian empire,  through the consideration of the processes of world discovery in the Age of Enlightenment, and the indigenous practices of the oil’s use. Finally, the significance of the author’s professional position of state physician appears to have influenced the argumentation of curative qualities of petroleum, and, moreover, the advantages of its placement.