Historians of science have long been encouraged to ‘follow the actors’: to ask what past men and women of science found relevant to their practice instead of assuming that they shared modern interests and values. This issue of Notes and Records shows scientific practitioners variously concerned with Hebrew conjugations, recalcitrant ticks, flood-wheels—and beer. Copious illustrations are provided of the shifting focus of historians from scientific ideas in isolation to science ‘in context’ and science ‘in action’. We read about the ways in which translation—in language, place and culture—has been bound up with the making and accreditation of scientific knowledge and of intellectual property. We read, also, about the ways in which the relationship between science and technology has been manifest: how, for example, have the ideas, images and ideologies of science been connected to scientific instruments, patents and science-based industry?
Michael Joalland and Scott Mandelbrote here explore how Isaac Newton learned Hebrew and, indeed, how much Hebrew Newton knew. David Kaiser and others have made the study of scientific pedagogy and textbooks respectable once more—especially as a way of understanding the ethos and routines of science.1 Newton's natural philosophy was, of course, deeply intertwined with his theological scholarship—and for the latter an acquired knowledge of diverse languages was vital. It is easy to imagine that ‘Newton, genius’ was equally fluent in all he attempted.2 Richard S. Westfall, perhaps Newton's best-known biographer, recognized that Newton knew Hebrew, but the current paper uses Newton's notebooks to consider when he first approached the language, to locate his early source, and to propose that his knowledge was actually limited and targeted on particular theological questions that interested him. This paper reminds us how resourceful historians may need to be, recovering Newton's reading practices by looking at the marks he left in books he owned.
The second paper, by Ian Lawson, moves to a language not of words but of images: the visual language associated with the new instruments of the Scientific Revolution. How did the Royal Society's sometime curator of experiments, Robert Hooke, go about making the observations by means of which he and others constructed the ‘microworld’ of Micrographia (1665)? Lawson elucidates the skills that Hooke developed and deployed to observe ‘tiny nature’: clutching at the form of lens best for a specific purpose; experimenting with modes of illumination; controlling minuscule nature to make it knowable. For Hooke, ‘seeing’ with his microscopes was less a matter of applying theoretical optics and more to do with a careful alignment of materials, lights and things to be observed. This was not an arena for multiple-use, standardized, off-the-shelf observational tools. Lawson shows that for the historian to recapture skilled practice requires the creative use of written and visual accounts and also a feel for the material culture of science so prominent in the early Royal Society.
In the next paper, by Andrew Rollinson, we make the leap from instruments to industry, and to the kind of technological benefits that some within the early Society proposed would ensue from the proper communication between natural philosophy and practical art. This account of the Castleford Mills is, on the one hand, a fine example of industrial archaeology, documenting what may be known about these technologies when relatively few written accounts remain. Of special interest to readers of Notes and Records, on the other hand, will be the connections between these mills and key figures who were keen, following Hooke, to relate science to industry. Required reading for power engineers in the generations after Hooke were the works of the civil engineer, Royal Society Fellow and draughtsman John Smeaton, who extended Newtonian mechanics to promote efficient water-wheel designs, and those of another Royal Society Fellow, William Fairbairn, who strove to unite theory and practice in mechanical engineering.
There is little evidence here of science secluded—the ‘Ivory Tower’ if you will3—and in our next paper, by Edwin Yates and Andrew Yates, we see again multiple and complex forms of interaction between science, technology and industry, even within the work of a single individual. The chief actor here, Johann Peter Griess, defies simple classification: was he a Victorian brewer or an azo-dye chemist? If he was an ‘industrial chemist’, which industries apply? Griess's primary employment was with Samuel Allsopp and Sons, a major brewery in the English Midlands. Otto Sibum, James Sumner and others have shown that breweries provided fertile ground for amateur and professional men of science—not least for James Prescott Joule and his work on the mechanical equivalent of heat.4 Griess's role at the brewery seems to have included managing risk and boosting the company's reputation by adding scientific lustre—but he was not encouraged to publish or to patent his key chemical work in Britain. In Germany things were rather different. Mario Biagioli, following Christine Macleod, has traced the very curious relationship between place and early modern patents; Arapostathis and Gooday, in their recent prize-winning book focusing on the nineteenth century, have elucidated the wildly varying patterns of patenting in different geographic, legalistic and scientific contexts.5 Through his German connections, Griess was instead an innovator in a field only tangentially connected with brewing (azo dyes), and paradoxically he was permitted and even resourced by Allsopp and Sons to develop patentable dyes—in close connection with the German chemicals company BASF.
Does science have to be immediately useful, or to be carried on as a business, to be worth a call on the public purse? In the nineteenth century, prominent critics such as the ‘metascientist’ William Whewell answered such questions with a resounding ‘no’.6 Scientific groups through history have, of course, sought to benefit from government funding while arguing the case for ‘pure research’—and trying to keep government at arms’ length. Neil Calver and Miles Parker here consider the reaction by the scientific community, especially within the Royal Society, to the Rothschild reforms proposed within the UK government in 1971–72. Those reforms attempted to reconfigure the relationship between government and science, proposing a market approach to science policy that seemed, to figures such as the Popperian Sir Peter Medawar, likely to undermine notions of pure research. It is not altogether surprising that a response to a new government science policy should be constructed, in part, by restating a dominant view of what counts as proper science. That, of course, is something that Karl Popper had provided. Medawar created a simple and palatable version of Popper's conception of science that was useful in countering Rothschild's proposals and also helped to facilitate Popper's election as one of the few non-scientist Fellows of the Royal Society.
↵1 David Kaiser (ed.), Pedagogy and the practice of science: historical and contemporary perspectives (MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 2005).
↵2 Patricia Fara, Newton: the making of genius (Columbia University Press, New York, 2004).
↵3 Steven Shapin, ‘The Ivory Tower: the history of a figure of speech and its cultural uses’, Br. J. Hist. Sci. 46, 1–27 (2012).
↵4 Heinz Otto Sibum, ‘Reworking the mechanical value of heat: instruments of precision and gestures of accuracy in early Victorian England’, Stud. Hist. Phil. Sci. 26, 73–106 (1995); James Sumner, Brewing science, technology and print, 1700–1880 (Pickering & Chatto, London, 2013).
↵5 Mario Biagioli, ‘From print to patents: living on instruments in early modern Europe’, Hist. Sci. 44, 139–186 (2006), esp. pp. 147–152 (‘Going places’); Stathis Arapostathis and Graeme Gooday, Patently contestable: electrical technologies and inventor identities on trial in Britain (MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 2013).
↵6 Richard Yeo, Defining science: William Whewell, natural knowledge and public debate in early Victorian Britain (Cambridge University Press, 2003).
- © 2015 The Author(s)
Published by the Royal Society.