Joris Mercelis


Postdoctoral Fellow, Ghent University, Dept. of History and Sarton Centre for History of Science (from Nov. 2013)

Doctor of History, Ghent University (2013); M.A. in History, Catholic University of Leuven (2007)

Universiteitsforum, room 130.012

Sint-Pietersnieuwstraat 35, 9000 Ghent, Belgium

 Research fields

  • Economic history of science and technology
  • History of innovation and entrepreneurship
  • Transatlantic history 

Research projects 

Openness and Intellectual Property

Postdoctoral research project "Photography and the Public Domain: Openness and Secrecy in the Development of Photographic Emulsion Technology, c.1850-2000"

Through a case study on photographic emulsion technology, this project seeks to develop a long-term, evolutionary framework for analyzing the sharing (or not) of innovative techno-scientific knowledge.

Scientific and Academic Entrepreneurship

Book project: revison of PhD dissertation "Leo H. Baekeland (1863-1944) as Scientific Entrepreneur: A Transatlantic Perspective on the Science-Industry Nexus" (advisors: Christophe Verbruggen and Danny Segers)

Using the career of Belgian-American chemical innovator Leo Baekeland as a case study, my dissertation casts new light on the connections and interdependencies between science and industry in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It does so by focusing on the themes of intellectual property and scientific entrepreneurship, together with related ethical issues. Moreover, in contrast to earlier studies on the development of the science-industry nexus in the United States, a transnational perspective is applied. The first part of the dissertation focuses on Baekeland’s career before the invention of Bakelite, the first synthetic plastic, in 1907. Special emphasis is placed on Baekeland’s social and educational background and the (dis)advantages that it brought him during his early endeavors in the Belgian and American photographic industries (chapters 2 and 3); Baekeland’s intellectual property strategy for Velox photographic paper, his main innovation from the 1890s (chapter 4); and the moral context in which Baekeland, a practically minded innovator, became a leading figure in scientific circles (chapter 5).

The second part of the study concentrates on the interplay between Baekeland and Bakelite. An overarching theme is the relation between Baekeland’s preferences and actions as a techno-scientific expert and his decisions as leader of the General Bakelite Company and its successor, the Bakelite Corporation. This aspect is first discussed in connection with transnational patent issues (chapter 6) and the development of early applications of Bakelite (chapter 7). The final two chapters deal with theoretical discussions on the molecular structures of synthetic plastics like Bakelite and the Bakelite companies’ dedication to science and industrial R&D. On the whole, the dissertation demonstrates the key importance of issues of intellectual property and scientific entrepreneurship to Baekeland’s career while also highlighting their wider significance in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century America and Europe.

Conference "Academic Entepreneurship in History: An International Survey of Current Research" (Ghent, 12-3 March 2015).

See conference website for more information.

Recent peer-reviewed publications

  • "Edward Mallinckrodt (1845-1928)," in Immigrant Entrepreneurship: The German-American Business Biography, 1720 to the Present. Vol. 3: From the End of the Gilded Age to the Progressive Era, 1893-1918, edited by Giles Hoyt, German Historical Institute, Washington, DC (forthcoming).
  • "Plastics," in Discoveries in Modern Science: Exploration, Invention, Technology, James Trefil ed., MacMillan (Jan. 2015).
  • “Learning from Entrepreneurial Failure: Leo Baekeland’s Exit from Europe," Journal of Belgian History 43, 4 (2013): 46-79. 
  • “The Photographic Paper that Made Leo Baekeland’s Reputation," in Knowledge Management and Intellectual Property: Concepts, Actors and Practices from the Past to the Present, edited by Stathis Arapostathis and Graham Dutfield, 62-83, Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar Publishing, 2013. 
  • "Jacob Hasslacher (1852-1921)," in Immigrant Entrepreneurship: The German-American Business Biography, 1720 to the Present. Vol. 3: From the End of the Gilded Age to the Progressive Era, 1893-1918, edited by Giles Hoyt, German Historical Institute, Washington, DC (available at
  • "Leo Baekeland's Transatlantic Struggle for Bakelite: Patenting Inside and Outside of America," Technology and Culture 53 (2012): 366-400.

All publications are listed here.

Papers or lectures (2013-)

  • "Leo Baekeland comme entrepreneur scientifique" (Mémosciences, Université catholique de Louvain, 6 May 2015).
  • "Academic Photography in Europe and the United States: A Preliminary Taxonomy of Entrepreneurial Profiles, c.1860-1930" (SHOT 2014, Dearborn; earlier draft at EBHA 2014 in Utrecht).
  • "Was there ever such a thing as ‘closed innovation’? Evidence from Eastman Kodak, c.1925-75" (Historical Network Research Conference, Ghent, 18 September 2014).
  • (With Christophe Verbruggen) "Continuity and Change: Transatlantic Crossings of Ideas about the Education-Industry Nexus around the First World War" (Transatlantic Studies Association, Ghent, 8 July 2014). 
  • "Stages of Openness in the Development of Photographic Technology in Nineteenth-Century America" (2014 annual meeting Business History Conference, Frankfurt am Main, 14 March 2014).
  • "German American Entrepreneurs and the Globalization of Proprietary Chemical Knowledge, c.1860-1930" (American History Association, Washington, DC, 3 January 2014).
  • "Photography and the Public Domain: Managing Knowledge and Intellectual Property, c.1850-2000" (research seminar, German Historical Institute - Washington, 16 Oct. 2013). 
  • "Handling Fundamental Uncertainty: Bakelite and Baekeland in Industry and Academia" (24th International Congress of History of Science, Technology and Medicine, Manchester, 26 July 2013).