Tuesday, January 8, 2013

My new article in the Notes and Records of the Royal Society

Is now online (HT - Blue Aurora).

It will appear in the March issue, which is the 75th anniversary issue. The editor has this to say about my piece in the introduction to the issue:
"Another of the Royal Society's multiple public roles is as a guardian of Britain's scientific heritage. Daniel Kuehn throws rather surprising light on that role by drawing attention to an episode in which, at the height of World War II, the Society found time to combine high-level diplomacy with its celebration of the tercentenary of the birth of Isaac Newton. The core celebration was modest enough: it consisted essentially of three short papers (by E. N. da Costa Andrade, the fourth baron Rayleigh, and Sir James Jeans) at the Anniversary Meeting in November 1942. But the Society's decision, in the following year, to donate a first edition of Newton's Principia to the Soviet Academy of Science had greater resonance, by bringing the tercentenary squarely into the realm of international alliance-building. As Kuehn shows, a key figure in both initiatives was John Maynard Keynes. A Newtonian scholar and bibliophile, Keynes gave an after-dinner talk following the Anniversary Meeting; the talk was apparently on Newton's alchemical work, which continued to fascinate Keynes even at a time of tense financial negotiations in Washington and London. And he emerged as an active promoter of the gift to the Soviet Academy."
My paper can be found here (it looks like full text is available, which is great to see!). This is the abstract:
"Most discussions of John Maynard Keynes's activities in connection with Newton are restricted to the sale in 1936 at Sotheby's of Newton's Portsmouth Papers and to Keynes's 1946 essay ‘Newton, the Man’. This paper provides a history of Keynes's Newton-related work in the interim, highlighting especially the events of 1942 and 1943, which were particularly relevant to the Royal Society's role in the domestic and international promotion of Newton's legacy. During this period, Keynes lectured twice on Newton, leaving notes that would later be read by his brother Geoffrey in the famous commemoration of the Newton tercentenary in 1946. In 1943 Keynes assisted the Royal Society in its recognition of the Soviet celebrations and in the acquisition and preservation of more of the Newton library. In each instance Keynes took the opportunity to promote his interpretation of Newton as ‘the last of the magicians’: a scientist who had one foot in the pre-modern world and whose approach to understanding the world was as much intuitive as it was methodical."
If I could spend more time on one aspect of the paper, it would be to delve into the Keynes/Hartley discussion of the similarities between Newton and Faraday in terms of intuition and scientific discovery. Maybe some day...

One of the things I enjoyed most about the article was highlighting the personal relationship between Keynes and A.V. Hill.

1 comment:

  1. Something you might be interested in then:

    Michael Hunter, "First Steps in Institutionalisation: the Role of the Royal Society of London," in _Science and the Shape of Orthodoxy: Studies of Intellectual Change in late 17th-century Britain_ (1995)


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