New Bodleian History Books: April 2019 – History of Science

We live in the age of  “post-truth”, of “alternative facts” and the “war on science”, in which all manner of scientific knowledge is questioned, experts are doubted, and denialism is rife. Online platforms provide sources of information which fuel the beliefs of climate change deniers, anti-vaxxers and flat-earthers, and fill the proponents of pseudosciences such as astrology or alternative medicines with distrust in established institutions, authority and experts.

Faced with a present like this, it can be rather reassuring to take a look back at the long history of science and the development of science and scientific thought from its beginnings through to today, if only to see for yourself the uncontrovertible evidence of how science and scientific innovations and inventions have shaped the course of human history and influenced human society as it is today – whether you believe with Karl Popper that scientific knowledge is progressive and cumulative, or with Thomas Kuhn that scientific knowledge moves through paradigm shifts.

Science itself (if we define it as “the knowledge of natural regularities that is subjected to some degree of sceptical rigour and explained by rational causes”) is rather older than the invention of writing, so the long history of science begins with non-verbal evidence of “scientific” thought – neolithic structures showing astronomical alignments such as Stonehenge are an obvious example of this, or archaeological evidence for the extraction of copper and tin and later iron from metal ore which led to the Bronze and Iron Ages. But although modern “science” as such really only dates back to the scientific revolution of 16th- and 17th-century Europe, the astronomers, alchemists and natural philosophers of the Ancient world, Antiquity and the Middle Ages usually receive their well-deserved credit from historians of science for playing their important part in the accumulation of human knowledge of the natural world.

The recently arrived new Bodleian books in the subject area of history of science thus not only span an impressive number of centuries, they also illustrate the diversity of smaller fields which fall under the greater umbrella term of “history of science”: there are volumes that chart the history of a particular branch or discipline, studies with a more social focus that document the influence of scientific discoveries or technological inventions on human society, and also biographies that celebrate the lives of individual influential scientists.

Histories of Science

Three of the volumes I would like to highlight in this month’s blog are traditional “histories” of scientific disciplines. Danilo Capecchi’s The Problem of the Motion of Bodies offers a history of mechanics which presents both a synchronic analysis of individual historic periods from Antiquity through the Middle Ages and Renaissance to Modernity, as well as a diachronic discussion which makes comparisons between different periods, looking at the what inspired humans to attempt to gain insight into the mechanisms of motion. Also charting the developments of a single discipline is Edouard Mehl’s Le temps des astronomes, his discussion of astronomy in the early modern world as a method of calculating celestial movements of the future and the past, as well as its modern understanding in which this definition quickly became insufficient, inadequate, and finally obsolete. Finally, Jost Weyer’s first volume of a projected two-volume series on the history of chemistry covers first early forms of chemistry from the Greco-Roman world to the Latin Middle Ages via Mesopotamia, Egypt, the Arab world, China and India, and then moves to a description of its development into an actual science during the early modern age from the 16th to the 18th century. In its aim to show not only how chemistry changed over the course of world history, but also how chemistry itself changed world history, it would also rather neatly fit into this following second batch of books.

Science and the World

In Un trésor scientifique redécouvert Dominique Bernard introduces a collection of over a thousand scientific instruments from the mid-19th to the turn of the 20th century preserved at the University of Rennes in Brittany. Many of these were invented by or belonged such great names among scientists as Leon Foucault of the famous pendulum, the nobel prize laureates Pierre and Marie Curie, or Pierre Weiss and his electromagnets, and the volume emphasises both the historical and educational interest in these, looking at the sometimes very “modern” concepts that influenced their design. Audra J. Wolfe’s Freedom’s laboratory also focuses on the role of science and scientists in a particular historic era, namely the Cold War, where US propaganda promoted a vision of American science with an emphasis on “scientific freedom” and a “US ideology” conceived as opposed to Communist science. The continued hold of Cold War thinking on ideas about science and politics in the United States is demonstrated in following this thought through to the present day with a discussion of the recent March for Science and the prospects for science and science diplomacy in the Trump era. How specifically scientific inventions rather than scientific thought influenced the 20th and 21st century world we live in is the subject of David Segal’s aptly named One hundred patents that shaped the modern world, charting the huge impacts, many unexpected, of new inventions on multiple spheres of our lives, and placing inventions into historical perspective – from everyday items such as tarmac, aspirin, liquid crystals, ring-pulls of soft drink cans and barbed wire to history-changing ones such as Morse code, television, transistors, diodes, and gene editing.

Men and Women of Science

Marc Raboy’s biography of Guglielmo Marconi could, again, just as easily be listed with the above two volumes – it charts the life and doings of the man whose invention and patent of radio waves and establishment of stations and transmitters around the world made global communications wireless, and whose impact on modern society and life can hardly be overstated. Generally rather better known that Marconi, though not in his profession as a scientist, is the subject of a second biographical study: Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, the Lewis Carroll of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland fame, was a lecturer in Mathematics at Christ Church, Oxford, and Amirouche Moktefi’s book on his “mathematical world” for the first time collects the materials on his mathematical achievements, including personal letters and drawings, in a single volume which describes his writings in geometry, algebra, logic, the theory of voting, and recreational mathematics, and discusses his mathematical legacy.

You can find all our new books tagged with “History of Science” on LibraryThing here.

New: Arcadian Library Online: History of Science and Medicine collection

I am delighted to announce that thanks to a generous donation, the Bodleian Libraries has been able to purchase Arcadian Library Online: History of Science and Medicine collection.

This online resource enables easy exploration of the rich holdings of the Arcadian Library. A privately-owned collection of rare ancient manuscripts, early printed books, and documents from the 10th to 20th centuries, the Arcadian Library collects the shared cultural heritage of Europe and the Middle East.

The first module of this online resource, the History of Science and Medicine collection, contains the contributions of early Arab and Persian scientists, doctors and thinkers; their translation, reception and influence in Europe and their lasting influence on the development of Western scientific and medical knowledge. It also brings together 19th and 20th century records of science, medicine and natural history from across the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle Eastern regions.

There are texts on

Content highlights include:

  • Ibn Baklarish’s Kitab al-Musta’ini – Book of simple medicines
  • Haly Abbas’s (Al Majūsī) seminal tenth century medical text Liber Totius Medicine Necessaria Continens
  • Liber de cirurgia by Albucasis (Al-Zahrawi) – a pivotal fifteenth century medical treatise detailing early Arab surgical practices and instruments
  • An early edition of Serapion the Younger’s book of medical botany, Liber aggregatus in medicinis simplicibus
  • Reports of European scientific explorations documenting the animals, plants and geology of countries including Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria

I recommend browsing by period, place, people, topic, language and content type to get a sense of the scope of this curated collection.

The vast majority of the content comes from printed works and are in Latin. Texts are also in Arabic, Dutch, English, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Italian, Persian and Spanish. The medieval and early modern periods are particularly strong.

In due course the bibliographical details of each item in this collection will also be discoverable in SOLO.

Features include:

  • High-resolution, full-colour images (400ppi)
  • Searchable in either English or Arabic
  • Dedicated taxonomy enables filtered search by topic, place, period, people, language or content type
  • Commentary articles linked to primary texts
  • Full catalogue records include available provenance and condition notes
  • Integrated Arabic keyboard

Now online: Ambix: the Journal of the Society for the Study of Alchemy and Early Chemistry

Oxford researchers will be pleased to know that Ambix: the Journal of the Society for the Study of Alchemy and Early Chemistry is now available online, starting with volume 44 (1997). For issues before that date, you will need to consult the printed copy.

Ambix is an internationally-recognised, peer-reviewed journal and the leading specialist publication in its field, which is viewed as a major outlet for current research. Published four times a year, in February, May, August and November, its remit is to facilitate the publication of high-quality research and discussion in all areas relevant to the history of alchemy and chemistry, including:

  • ancient, medieval and early modern alchemy
  • the Chemical Revolution
  • the impact of atomism
  • the rise of organic chemistry
  • the chemical industry
  • quantum chemistry
  • interactions between the chemical sciences and other disciplines

The Journal’s scope extends to the history of pharmacy and chemical medicine, environmental studies of the chemical industry, and the material and visual culture of chemistry. ” (https://www.tandfonline.com/action/journalInformation?show=aimsScope&journalCode=yamb20, accessed 15 May 2018)

Ambix also publishes reviews in English of books dealing with any aspect of the history of alchemy and chemistry.

Women in science in the archives: seminar 8 Sept 2016

8 September 2016, 9am-1pm
Venue: Lecture Theatre, Weston Library (Map)
Contact: svenja.kunze@bodleian.ox.ac.uk, 01865 283842

This half-day seminar will look at women’s engagement with science in the past through the Bodleian’s historical archives, trace the changing nature of their role, discuss the experiences of female scientists in the 21st century, and explore the challenges of preserving their archives in the future.

Women In Science in the Archives 8 Sept 2016The first part of the seminar will be dedicated to three prominent female scientists, represented in the Bodleian’s archives. Archivists, historians and biographers will give their perspectives on the life and work of:

  • astronomer and mathematician Mary Somerville (1780-1872)
  • physiologist and pathologist Mabel Purefoy FitzGerald (1872-1973)
  • biochemist and crystallographer Dorothy Hodgkin (1910-1994)

The second part of the seminar will bring 21st century women in science into the archives. Professor Frances Ashcroft will talk about her career as a physiologist, and the challenges and opportunities she has seen for women in science since the 1970s.

A panel of early career scientists from the University of Oxford will share their experiences as women in science today, and discuss with archivists and curators how their work can become part of the archives of the future.

View the seminar programme (pdf), including list of speakers.

After the seminar, there will be an opportunity to see selected items from the Bodleian’s Special Collections, and meet the archivists working on them. Please note that this curator-led display has a limited capacity, and places need to be booked separately.

Booking

The seminar is free but places are limited so please complete our booking form to reserve tickets in advance.

New: e-access to Nursing History Review, 1, 1993-

[re-blogged from the Wellcome Unit Library Blog]

We are pleased to announce that electronic access is now available for the Nursing History Review, the Official Publication of the American Association for the History of Nursing.

Nursing History Review, an annual peer-reviewed publication, is a showcase for the most significant current research on nursing and health care history. Contributors include national and international scholars representing many different disciplinary backgrounds. Regular sections include scholarly articles, reviews of the best books on nursing and health care history, invited commentaries, and abstracts of new doctoral dissertations on nursing and health care history. Historians, researchers, and individuals fascinated with the rich field of nursing will find this an important resource.

Much content will also be of interest to those researching women’s history.

Access is via SOLO and OU eJournals, and is available from Vol. 1 (1993) to the present day.

New: e-access to Journal of Medical Biography, 1993 (v.1) onwards

Journal of medical biography - coverI am pleased to report that Oxford users now have e-access to the Journal of Medical Biography [ISSN 0967-7720] from vol. 1, 1993 onwards.

Access is via SOLO or OU eJournals. For remote access, Oxford users should use their SSO login.

A peer-reviewed international journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, it covers the lives of people in or associated with medicine.

“… The Journal of Medical Biography covers medical personalities and many others in the field of health care, hospitals, instruments, techniques and so on. It features original research on persons and places, legendary and less well known, and provides a fresh new perspective on life and lives.” Sage Journals, http://jmb.sagepub.com/.

You can register for email alerts and set up an RSS feed. For more on current awareness tools, see handouts from Bodleian iSkills courses on Getting Information Come To You.

New: Loeb Classical Library online

Loeb - Confessions - coverI am pleased to report that thanks to the Classics Librarian Oxford readers now have access to the Loeb Classical Library online via OxLIP+ and soon via SOLO. Over 520 volumes of useful sources materials for historians are now available in both Latin and Greek with parallel English translations.

The Digital Loeb Library is an interconnected, fully searchable, perpetually growing, virtual library of all that is important in Greek and Latin literature. Epic and lyric poetry; tragedy and comedy; history, travel, philosophy, and oratory; the great medical writers and mathematicians; those Church Fathers who made particular use of pagan culture—in short, our entire Greek and Latin Classical heritage is represented here with up-to-date texts and accurate English translations.

Catalogue records for the individual volumes will also soon be added to SOLO.

Related resources

Research workshop: Printing mathematics in the early modern world – 16 and 17 Dec 2013, All Souls College

Monday 16 and Tuesday 17 December 2013: 10am–5pm All Souls College, Oxford

The early modern period saw the printing, in large numbers, of mathematical tables, primers, textbooks and practical manuals, as well as the incorporation of mathematical notation into a wide range of works on other subjects. Algebraic notation, diagrams and even printed mathematical instruments all raised unusual problems for print. The development of appropriate layouts and conventions, the establishment of workable print-shop procedures, and the detection and management of error all required distinctive solutions where the printing of mathematics was concerned.

Those problems and their solutions are the subject of this two-day workshop, to be held in All Souls College, Oxford.

A limited number of places are available for observers. The cost will be £20, and will cover attendance at the conference sessions, with tea and coffee. Unfortunately accommodation cannot be provided for observers.

Further information, including a draft programme, is available.

To reserve a place, or for any enquiries, please contact benjamin.wardhaugh@all-souls.ox.ac.uk

New: Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography

I am pleased to report that Oxford users now have access to the online Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography.

Dictionary of Scientific BiographyContaining thousands of biographies of mathematicians and natural scientists from all regions and historical periods, this resource is one of the most trusted science biography reference works.

The Dictionary of Scientific Biography is supplemented by the New Dictionary of Scientific Biography with an additional 775 completely new entries which include scientists deceased since 1980, figures omitted from the original and “postscript” commentaries that detail new research on great scientists of the past.

Today’s Biography of Day …

…is Johannes Kepler, the German astronomer and mathematician (b. 1571, d 1630)

Dictionary of Scientific Biography - Kepler

15 November is the 383rd anniversary of his death. Kepler’s work on the laws of motion were hugely influential on Robert Hooke and Isaac Newton. Check out his biography now!

Othe biographical resources available in Oxford

New: Dissertations Read to the Royal Medical Society, Edinburgh

I am delighted to offer Oxford users online access to the Dissertations Read to the Royal Medical Society, Edinburgh (British Online Archives). Access is via SOLO (shortly) or OxLIP+.

On epilepsy / by William Adair. in DISSERTATIONS, ETC., 1751-1799, v1

On epilepsy / by William Adair. in DISSERTATIONS, ETC., 1751-1799, v1

Founded in 1737, the Royal Medical Society is the oldest student society of its kind in the United Kingdom, whose members were duty-bound to deliver a dissertation for examination by their peers.

This collection comprises over 200 volumes of hand-written dissertations, providing a unique insight into the development in medical teaching and thought during the last 250 years.

In subject, the dissertations range from framboesia to fear, from meningitis to mongolism and many represent the earliest original work of famous men of medicine.

The linked author index is in two parts: vols. 1-95 (1751-1833), and vols. 96-215 (1834-1968). Scanned from the microfilm of the Royal Medical Society collections in the Edinburgh University Library.

Some texts are difficult to read and images are faint. Use the zoom function to enlarge the text.

Images can be saved or printed individually as PDFs.