Monthly Archives: December 2014

Visions of Science: Mary Somerville

Jeffrey Burton Russell, in his remarkable Inventing the Flat Earth (1991), wrote that the “Flat Error,” the myth that medieval thinkers insisted that the earth was flat, continues to survive because, firstly, we wittingly or unwittingly “repeat and propagate errors of fact or interpretation”; secondly, we are often led by our “biases more than by […]

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Visions of Science: John Herschel

In his Reflections on the Decline of Science in England (1830), Charles Babbage ushered in the authority of astronomer John F.W. Herschel (1792-1871) as testimony that science in England was in decline. In a footnote to his article on “Sound” in the Encyclopaedia Metropolitana (1817-45), Herschel lamented about the “crude and undigested scientific matter” found […]

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Visions of Science: Charles Babbage

When he died, Charles Babbage (1791-1871), English polymath, mathematician, philosopher, engineer, and the “father of the computer,” donated one half of his brain to the Royal College of Surgeons, where it still sits in display today in the Hunterian Museum. The other half resides in the computing galleries of the Science Museum in London. Fittingly, […]

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Visions of Science: Humphry Davy

My Christmas gift this year was James A. Secord’s recent Visions of Science: Books and Readers at the Dawn of the Victorian Age (2014). After reading Secord’s magisterial Victorian Sensation: The Extraordinary Publication, Reception, and Secret Authorship of Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation (2000) earlier in the year, I have looked forward to […]

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The Bodleian Library: A Protestant Arsenal against Catholicism

The other day I began reading the introduction to Anthony Grafton’s Worlds Made by Words: Scholarship and Community in the Modern West (2009). This work is a collection of essays, originally published between 1983 and 2008, on the nature of scholarship. Grafton covers a wide-ranging set of topics, from The Republic of Letters to Google’s […]

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