Digital Approaches to the History of Science – Workshop I

Click here for more information on the DAHS workshops.

Digital Approaches to the History of Science, the first of two planned workshops on this topic, was held at the History Faculty in Oxford on 28 September 2018. A total of nearly sixty attendees assembled to hear presentations from a selection of the most exciting current projects in this field from around the UK. Professor Rob Iliffe, representing the Newton Project, addressed the ongoing challenges and complexity of digitizing and presenting the manuscript writings of Isaac Newton, and Alison Pearn spoke of the related issues faced by the digital side of the ongoing Darwin Correspondence project. Lauren Kassell, of the Casebooks Project, introduced a very different type of material and spoke of the need to find new ways of representing, encoding and searching the mass of information contained in early modern medical-astrological casebooks.

After lunch two speakers discussed from complementary perspectives the opportunities represented by the very rich archive of the Royal Society. Louisiane Ferlier discussed the digitization of Royal Society journals and the work needed to clean and link the metadata about the articles in them. Pierpaolo Dondio described his work modelling and visualising the network of authors, editors and referees who controlled the content of those papers, and provided examples of the kinds of research outcomes such work can produce. A final talk turned to the use of digital humanities resources in the university classroom: Kathryn Eccles and Howard Hotson described the Cabinet project, which has made a rich ecology of digital images and objects available to students on a growing list of Oxford undergraduate papers.

Rich discussions took place both around the individual presentations and over lunch and coffee, and this sell-out event has certainly stimulated interest and ongoing discussion about the distinctive opportunities for history of science created by digital scholarship and resources. The event was supported by the Centre for Digital Scholarship (Oxford), ‘Reading Euclid’, the Royal Society and the Newton Project, and was organised jointly by the Centre for Digital Scholarship and ‘Reading Euclid‘.

Many thanks to all the participants — we are already looking forward to the next workshop!

Augustus de Morgan and Euclid | Guest post by Karen Attar

Guest post by Dr Karen Attar, Curator of Rare Books at Senate House Library and a Research Fellow at the Institute of English Studies, both of the University of London. She has published widely on library history, and the library of Augustus De Morgan is one of her areas of interest.

Senate House Library, University of London—known until 2004 as the University of London Library—serves students from all the Colleges and schools of the federal University of London as a library for the humanities and social sciences. One might not, therefore, expect mathematics to feature. But its remit used to be larger; and the founding collection was the mathematical library of the mathematician and mathematical historian Augustus De Morgan (1806-1871), some 4,000 titles purchased shortly after De Morgan’s death by Samuel Loyd, Baron Overstone, for the University, as ‘the first fruits of a Library which shall ere long become such in all respects as the London University ought to possess’.

De Morgan’s Euclids

De Morgan collected as comprehensively as he could on a limited budget on all areas of mathematics: arithmetic (on which he published), geometry, functions, probability, and astronomy, with some related biographies, bibliographies, encyclopaedic works, and works on music thrown in. He had multiple editions of books by various writers. Of these, Euclid stands out. De Morgan’s copies range chronologically from the two productions of the incunable period to Isaac Todhunter’s textbook of 1862, in editions issued throughout Europe, from Venice to Amsterdam and from Basel to Dublin among others. Their format ranges from folio to duodecimo; their languages cover English, French, Italian and German alongside the original Greek and the predominant Latin.

As De Morgan was eminent in his field and a known collector and annotator of mathematical books, his own association with the Euclids bestows cachet upon them. Yet provenance interest does not rest on De Morgan alone.

Annotations on Euclidis Megarensis philosophi acutissimi mathematicorumq[ue] omnium sine controuersia principis op[er]a, ed. Campano da Novara (Venice: Paganino Paganini, 1509), p. 59. SHL classmark: [DeM] L.6 [Euclid - Elementa - Latin] fol. SSR
Annotations on Euclidis Megarensis philosophi acutissimi mathematicorumq[ue] omnium sine controuersia principis op[er]a, ed. Campano da Novara (Venice: Paganino Paganini, 1509), p. 59. SHL classmark: [DeM] L.6 [Euclid – Elementa – Latin] fol. SSR. © Senate House Library
The version published in Venice in 1509 is annotated in Italian; that from Paris in 1527 in Latin, in an early hand.  More tangibly, the astronomer Francis Baily (1744-1844), a prominent member of the Royal Society, annotated his copy (Edinburgh, 1799), both in the margins of the printed text and on interleaved pages.  We have some record of a few other former owners, such as Sir Thomas Knyvett (1539-1618; edition published in Padua in 1560), much of whose library of some 70 manuscripts and 1,400 printed books ended up via John Moore, Bishop of Ely, in Cambridge University Library, and the antiquary and literary scholar James Orchard Halliwell-Phillips (1820-1889), at whose sale of mathematical books in 1840 De Morgan bought extensively.  A Maltese architect, George Grognet, acquired in 1806 the edition published in Basle in 1550. A woman, one Abigail Baruh Lousada (c.1772-1833), a London scholar who translated the mathematical works of Diophantes into English and published some mathematical papers, owned the 1644 Paris edition; De Morgan patronised the sale of her library in 1834.  Most recently, Dionysius Lardner (1793-1859), London University’s first professor of natural philosophy and astronomy, edited his text of Euclid (1828) for the use of students in and preparing for the University of London and inscribed it to Augustus De Morgan.

De Morgan’s annotations are often bibliographical, place the book within its intellectual context, refer to rarity, or concern provenance. That on Lardner’s edition moves bibliography into the realm of the anecdotal:

“This was one of the first copies issued and was sent out before the unfortunate slip in page 244 was cancelled. Of course that slip was very sharply criticized particularly by Peter Nicholson, who foretold the ruin of the University of London from it.”

(Peter Nicholson (1765-1844) was a Scottish mathematician and architect who wrote about architecture, and who spent some of his life in London. De Morgan was connected with University College London (the ‘University of London’ referred to), as its first professor of mathematics.)

Giovanni Alfonso Borelli’s Euclides restitutus, siue, Prisca geometriae elementa, breuiùs, & faciliùs contexta (Pisa: Francesco Onofri, 1658). © Senate House Library
Giovanni Alfonso Borelli’s Euclides restitutus, siue, Prisca geometriae elementa, breuiùs, & faciliùs contexta (Pisa: Francesco Onofri, 1658). © Senate House Library

An intriguing example of a provenance annotation concerns the inscription ‘Edmond Waller’ on the half-title of Giovanni Alfonso Borelli’s Euclides restitutus, siue, Prisca geometriae elementa, breuiùs, & faciliùs contexta (Pisa: Francesco Onofri, 1658). Was this the seventeenth-century poet and politician Edmund Waller (1606-1687)? De Morgan was at pains to find out, writing both to the British Museum and to the literary critic and antiquary Bolton Corney (1784-1870) in a quest for other examples. He tipped their replies into the book, and summarised their messages in his handwritten notes.

Giovanni Alfonso Borelli’s Euclides restitutus, siue, Prisca geometriae elementa, breuiùs, & faciliùs contexta (Pisa: Francesco Onofri, 1658). © Senate House Library
Edmond Waller’s inscription on the half-title of Giovanni Alfonso Borelli’s Euclides restitutus, siue, Prisca geometriae elementa, breuiùs, & faciliùs contexta (Pisa: Francesco Onofri, 1658). © Senate House Library

An author search under De Morgan as former owner on Senate House Library’s online catalogue brings up a list of all De Morgan’s books here. To learn more about De Morgan’s interaction with Euclid and other writers, see my article on ‘Augustus De Morgan and his Reading’ in The Edinburgh History of Reading: A World Survey, edited by Mary Hammond and Jonathan Rose (Edinburgh University Press, forthcoming).

Karen Attar
Curator of Rare Books
Senate House Library, University of London

Finding maths in the RCP library: some 16th century rare books | guest post by Katie Birkwood

Guest post by Katie Birkwood, rare books and special Collections, Librarian Royal College of Physicians

You might expect the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) library only to contain medical books, but for the pre-1800 titles at least, that’s definitely not the case. Ever since the college’s foundation in 1518 it has been collecting books, and the library has reflected the requirement that its physicians be ‘groundedly learned’, ie knowledgeable in a wide range of subjects and not only medicine.

When William Harvey (1578–1657) gave his collection of books and objects to the college in the 1650s, his rules for his Musaeum Harveianum stipulated that

“Besides medical books we consider those to be especially useful and suitable for this Museum, which deal with Geometry, or Geography, or Cosmography, or Astronomy, or Music, or Optics, or Natural History, or Mechanics, or include Voyages to the more remote regions of the Earth.”

‘Groundedly learned’

The core of the RCP’s rare books collection as it stands today was given to the college in 1680. That was the year that Henry Pierrepont, Marquis of Dorchester (1606-1680) died. Dorchester was not a physician, but rather a lawyer. He was certainly ‘groundedly learned’, with a taste for book collecting, and he was friends with many of the college’s fellows. He was event made the RCP’s very first honorary fellow in 1658. After Dorchester’s death in 1680, his family gave his library of approximately 3,200 books to the college. This was a particularly welcome gift because Harvey’s library had been almost entirely destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666.

Fireworks, fortifications and the art of dance

Dorchester’s library was arranged into four broad sections: mathematics, law, medicine and philology (meaning literature and history), and the books are still shelved in these groupings today.

The ‘mathematics’ section of Dorchester’s library is – to modern eyes – remarkably diverse. It was common practice in the medieval period and later to consider music and astronomy as part of maths, but Dorchester’s collection still looks very broad. On the shelves are works of geography, handbooks to firework-making, diagrams of military fortifications and military strategy, and even one or two dancing manuals.

Black and white engraved illustration of Roman military formations Gl' Ordini della militia Romana. Giovanni Franco, published Venice, 1573.
Gl’ Ordini della militia Romana. Giovanni Franco, published Venice, 1573. © Royal College of Physicians
L’art et instruction de bien dancer, published Paris, c1495 | Orchesographie. Jehan Tabourot, published 1597.
L’art et instruction de bien dancer, published Paris, c1495 | Orchesographie. Jehan Tabourot, published 1597. © Royal College of Physicians

However, there are also plenty of classical mathematical texts. More than 30 books are editions of, commentaries on, or summaries of the works of the Greek geometrician Euclid (active around 300 BC).

Some of the copies of Euclid’s works in the Dorchester Library.
Some of the copies of Euclid’s works in the Dorchester Library. © Royal College of Physicians
Reading Euclid

It was a pleasure recently to welcome Yelda Nasifoglu from the Reading Euclid project team to examine our early modern Euclids. While she was here, two of the books caught my eye.

Each book is a Sammelband: a collection of different texts bounds together as one volume. The first contains three short works or compilations on geometry, perspective and proportions all printed in Paris around the year 1510. Curiously, all of the texts are attributed to bishops or archbishops of the 13th and 14th centuries: Thomas Bradwardine, archbishop of Canterbury (1290?–1349), John Peckham, archbishop of Canterbury (d.1292), Albertus de Saxonia, bishop of Halberstadt (d.1390) and Nicholas Oresme, bishop of Lisieux (c1320–1382). The full contents are:

It wasn’t the coincidence (perhaps deliberate assembly?) of the collection of bishops that caught my attention, but rather the visual appearance of the books. Each of the three is a fine example of early 16th century printing, decorated with a woodcut title page, woodcut illustrations to the text, or both.

Woodcut mathematical illustrations
Geometria speculativa. Thomas Bradwardine, published Paris, 1511. © Royal College of Physicians
Woodcut mathematical illustrations
Perspectiva communis. John Peckham, published Paris, c1510. © Royal College of Physicians
Woodcut border around a title page printed in red and black
Tractatus proportionum. Three works by Albertus de Saxonia, Thomas Bradwardine and Nicole Oresme, published Paris, c1512. © Royal College of Physicians

There is a lengthy inscription on the back of the second title page, but we do not know who left this annotation, nor the identities of any of the book’s owners before Dorchester, so the question of who was reading these short works of geometry is left open.

The second book contains four different printed works:

It is the last of the four that caught my eye. It’s a Jewish calendar compiled by the German scholar Sebastian Münster, printed in Hebrew and Latin characters.

Title page printed in Latin and Hebrew
Kalendarium hebraicum. Sebastian Münster, published Basel, 1527. © Royal College of Physicians

There are two owners’ names inscribed on the title page: ‘L Chambres’ and ‘David Goubard’. Either Chambres, Goubard, or another unknown person has left annotations in Latin, Greek and Hebrew, as well as calculations relating to the calendrical and information in the printed text.

Inscription by David Goubard
Kalendarium hebraicum. Sebastian Münster, published Basel, 1527. © Royal College of Physicians
Inscription by L Chambres
Kalendarium hebraicum. Sebastian Münster, published Basel, 1527. © Royal College of Physicians
Mathematical calculations in the margin of a printed book
Kalendarium hebraicum. Sebastian Münster, published Basel, 1527. © Royal College of Physicians

I’ve not managed to identify ‘L Chambres’ for certain. He may be the Leonard Chambers who studied at Trinity College, Cambridge from 1561, and was vice-master of that college and later a prebend of St Paul’s Cathedral. David Goubard was a translator of astronomical works, active around the year 1633. He is known to have owned other books, including three incunabula (books printed before the year 1501), all on astronomical or astrological topics, now kept at the Bodleian Library, Oxford, and Lambeth Palace Library. It’s not clear whether idea of these, or a later owner, brought the other three works together with the Jewish calendar.

Unanswered questions like these are a constant companion when investigating the history of rare books. The RCP rare books collections – whether mathematical or not – are a rich source of evidence, sometimes tantalising, of book use from the earliest days of printing throughout the early-modern era.

Katie Birkwood, rare books and special collections librarian

Katie’s post is also on the RCP website at

100th copy

“Reading Euclid” recently inspected its hundredth copy of the Elements, and we’ve now recorded more than three thousand separate items in our summaries of the marks that early modern readers left in these books. With visits to London and Cambridge planned, we’re well on our way to our goal of seeing a representative sample of the early modern copies of the Elements surviving in Britain.

Most of the copies we’ve seen so far are held in Oxford libraries, although their earlier homes have been all over Britain. We’ve seen copies owned by university professors, teachers and students, by doctors, lawyers, merchants and even a saint (Thomas More). Some of the most fascinating copies come from the university context, where we’ve seen evidence of students copying annotations from a teacher’s book into their own. We’ve also seen a fascinating series of notes relating to a proposed new edition of the text: a group of scholars copied in textual variants, amended the Latin translation and compiled thousands of cross-references and commentary items, as well as providing algebraic equivalents for some of the theorems. Sadly that project came to nothing.

The books give a real sense of how the cultural profile of mathematics was changing in the early modern period, and how people’s use of texts and ownership of books was changing too. Those two processes led to a huge range of ways of engaging with the Euclidean text, and we’re beginning to discern some of the patterns and the ways that worked. Now for the next hundred copies!

Project milestone

The Reading Euclid project recently passed the milestone of having worked through fifty copies of Euclid’s Elements as part of the search for annotations and other marks made by readers. Principal Investigator Benjamin Wardhaugh writes:

We’re just a few months into our project on reading Euclid in Early Modern Britain and Ireland, and we’re eventually hoping to work through two or three hundred copies of Euclid’s Elements. We’ve now completed the first fifty, and recorded our two thousandth mark made by an early modern reader. A few patterns are starting to emerge.

Most of the books have been written in by their early readers: not just bookplates, signatures, names and dates, but also detailed – even obsessive – corrections of the mathematics and the language in which it’s expressed. I’ve now seen about twenty-five thousand printed pages, and around one in ten of those pages bears readers’ marks of some kind. Wrong labels are corrected, missing lines are added to diagrams and missing steps are inserted into proofs. More adventurous readers – or those whose responsibilities included teaching – marked up the book in still more detail, selecting and rearranging, supplementing one edition of the Elements with passages from another, or copying in long explanations and discussions from other geometrical works.

What we’re starting to see is a rich and fascinating world of reading and studying, that can help us understand how mathematics was learned in the early modern period. It’s background to the scientific changes of the seventeenth century and the revolutions that shook mathematics in that period. There’s lots more to do, but I’m optimistic about what we’re finding out.

Robert Ashley’s Euclids | guest post by Renae Satterly

Guest post by Renae Satterley, Librarian, Middle Temple Library

Middle Temple is one of the four Inns of Court, alongside Inner Temple, Gray’s Inn and Lincoln’s Inn. The Inns were traditionally responsible for educating barristers and calling them to the Bar. Since the mid-19th century they have been responsible for calling lawyers to the Bar and ensuring continuing professional standards as well as providing scholarships and support to the Bar.

Middle and Inner Temple trace their origins to the Knights Templar. It is not known when the Inns became two separate entities, but it was at some point before 1500. Members generally lived and worked at their Inn, some throughout their whole lives. As such the Inns were cosmopolitan places, especially during the early modern period. Many illustrious men were called to the Bar as honorary members. Some notable members of Middle Temple include Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Martin Frobisher and Henry Atkins, physician to the King in 1604.

‘Ordinary’ members were also significant men of their time. Robert Ashley (1565-1641) is one such member. His bequest of over 3,700 books re-established the library at Middle Temple. Ashley was a lawyer, although by his own admission, not a successful one; he describes the ‘ebbs and tides’ of his law practice. Thus Ashley spent most of his life collecting and reading books- he was a true bibliophile. He also translated six works during his lifetime, from French, Italian, Latin and Spanish. The breadth of his collection is characteristic of the learned men of the Inns of Court, that is to say, far-reaching and covering a wide range of topics. The collection is also interesting for being one of the few of its size to have remained relatively intact in central London, where it originated.

One of the areas of particular interest to Ashley was science- including mathematics, geometry, algebra, music and astronomy. There are two works by Euclid in the collection: Elementorum libri XV (printed in Cologne in 1607) and Elementorum libri XIII (printed in Wittenberg in 1609). There is one other Euclid work in the collection without marginalia in Ashley’s hand, Elementorum libri XV, a two volume work printed in Frankfurt in 1607. However, given the paucity of book acquisitions made by the Inn after Ashley’s death, this set most likely belonged to his bequest as well.

The two books that do have Ashley’s marginal notes in them are shown in the images here; both feature fairly extensive manuscript notes about Euclid on the pages preceding the title page:

Unfortunately Ashley did not leave behind any personal papers or manuscripts, apart from two versions of an original work entitled ‘Of Honour’. One version of this manuscript is at Trinity College Cambridge (R.14.20 664) and the other at the Huntington Library (MS EL 1117). He also wrote an autobiography, Vita (MS Sloane 2131) now held at the British Library.

It is difficult to know how well Ashley would have understood the principles presented in these scientific works, but as a trained lawyer, he had been taught to read and cross-reference works closely. Reading and practising law meant being able to reference a wide range of legal precedents and statutes, from Magna Carta onwards. Many of his scientific books are heavily annotated and cross-referenced to other works.

Researchers interested in the mathematics books in our collection may find this list a useful starting point.

Renae Satterley
Librarian, Middle Temple Library