The Many Mendeleevs
This concluding chapter assesses the importance of Dmitrii Mendeleev as an individual. One could in principle similarly follow the paths of many figures in Imperial Russia or in nineteenth-century science—or, in fact, in almost any place or time. Yet Mendeleev offers a particularly valuable perspective on the history of both Russia and chemistry. The educated elite in Imperial Petersburg was quite small, and individuals who were prominent in several groups—such as Sergei Witte or Feodor Dostoevsky—were able to imprint their concepts deeply on Russia's state or its culture. Mendeleev, on the other hand, unified artists, writers, scientists, and bureaucrats while preserving their traces in his sizable personal archive; his life illustrates what it was like to live and work in St. Petersburg. Moreover, his chemical ideas demonstrate how European science functioned, as well as how barriers of language and culture placed constraints on scientific attempts at attaining universality.
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