History of science

Kia ora koutou

Recently someone came to me with an 18th century science book she was keen to keep in the very good condition it is currently in.  As we got to talking about our collections here, it occurred to me that despite having some very interesting old science books, history of science is an area of our collections from which retrievals are seldom requested to retrieve items.  In fact, in the last 12 months, most of the retrievals in these subjects have been related to exhibitions we were mounting, or to classes in print history. 

To mark the Transit of Venus last year, we exhibited a selection of astronomy-related books incuding:

James Ferguson’s Astronomy explained on Sir Isaac Newton’s principles, and made easy to those who have not studied mathematics… 5th edition, London, 1772, which offered us (among its many wonderful illustrations) a picture of James Ferguson’s Orrery and a map which marks the lines of the passage of Venus in its transit on June 6th, 1661.

 The original astronomical observation made in the course of a voyage towards the South Pole… by William Wales, FRS and Mr William Bayly.  London, 1777,  in which was a marvellous ilustration of a portable observatory “as devised by Mr Bayly”.

The theory of the earth : containing an account of the original of the earth, and of all the general changes which it hath already undergone, or is to undergo till the consummation of all things.  By Thomas Burnet.  London, 1697

Traite de mecanique celeste.  Pierre, Marquise de Laplace.  Paris, 1829,  which I’m happy to report was also used by a researcher.

For another exhibition, we found a range of historical mathematical publications including Jean Francois Callet’s Tables portatives des logarithmes… (1795) and George Boole’s Investigation of the laws of thought, on which are founded the mathematical theories of logic and probabilities (1854), which sat alongside more recent volumes and records of earlier days of computing at Victoria to complement a lecture commemorating the 100th anniversary of Alan Turing’s birth. 

Whether noticing how ingenious some early technologies were or how interesting some early scientific thought was, it’s wonderful to be able to track our progress as a scientific culture through these publications.

Nga mihi

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