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Descartes is well known as a mathematician and natural philosopher. However, none of Descartes's biographers has described the invitation he received in 1633 to fill a chair in theoretical medicine at the University of Bologna, or the fact that he was already sufficiently known and respected for his medical knowledge that the invitation came four years before his first publication. In this note I authenticate and contextualize this event, which I refer to as the ‘Bologna affair’. I transcribe the letter written to the Bolognese Senate announcing efforts to bring Descartes to the university and explain the events that led to Descartes receiving the invitation. While many questions about the Bologna affair cannot be answered because of the paucity of the historical record, I conclude that the event invites us to consider again the larger historiographical issue of how best to integrate the history of medicine with the history of science and philosophy during the early modern period.
In order to recast scholarly understanding of scientific cosmopolitanism during the French Revolution, this essay examines the stories of the natural-history collections of the Dutch Stadholder and the French naturalist Labillardière that were seized as war booty. The essay contextualizes French and British savants' responses to the seized collections within their respective understandings of the relationship between science and state and of the property rights associated with scientific collections, and definitions of war booty that antedated modern transnational legal conventions. The essay argues that the French and British savants' responses to seized natural-history collections demonstrate no universal approach to their treatment. Nonetheless, it contends that the French and British approaches to these collections reveal the emergence in the 1790s of new forms of scientific nationalism that purported to be cosmopolitan – French scientific universalism and British liberal scientific improvement.
As the royal agent for British West Florida and an avid naturalist, John Ellis, FRS, took a keen interest in both the scientific and the commercial potential of the nascent colony. This article explores how Ellis and his West Floridian correspondent Bernard Romans illuminate the social and material practices of colonial science. In particular, it builds on recent scholarship to argue that new natural knowledge about West Florida did not simply circulate in the Atlantic World, but was in fact engendered by the movement of objects and ideas through the many circuits of transatlantic natural history and imperial administration. Foregrounding the Atlantic nature of such knowledge also raises questions about the limits of the categories of centre and periphery so frequently employed by historians of colonial science. Colonists such as Romans understood London to be just one centre amongst many and asserted their own epistemological claims, despite the asymmetries of power inherent to colonial science.
Only weeks following Queen Victoria's ascension to the throne on 20 June 1837, a controversy brewed over the naming of the ‘vegetable wonder’ known today as Victoria amazonica (Sowerby). This gargantuan lily was encountered by the Royal Geographical Society's explorer Robert Schomburgk in British Guyana on New Year's Day, 1837. Following Schomburgk's wishes, metropolitan naturalists sought Victoria's pleasure in naming the flower after her, but the involvement of multiple agents and obfuscation of their actions resulted in two royal names for the lily: Victoria regina (Gray) and Victoria regia (Lindley). To resolve the duplicity in names, the protagonists, John Edward Gray and John Lindley, made priority claims for their respective names, ultimately founding their authorities on conventions aligned with gentlemanly manners and deference to nobility. This article will analyse the controversy, hitherto unexamined by historians, and argue for its significance in repositioning Queen Victoria – and nobility generally – as central agents in the making of authority in early Victorian science.
Babbage wrote two relatively detailed, yet significantly incongruous, autobiographical accounts of his pre-Cambridge and Cambridge days. He published one in 1864 and in it advertised the existence of the other, which he carefully retained in manuscript form. The aim of this paper is to chart in some detail for the first time the discrepancies between the two accounts, to compare and assess their relative credibility, and to explain their author's possible reasons for knowingly fabricating the less credible of the two.
By the late nineteenth century the submarine telegraph cable industry, which had blossomed in the 1850s, had reached what historians regard as technological maturity. For a host of commercial, cultural and technical reasons, the industry seems to have become conservative in its attitude towards technological development, which is reflected in the small scale of its staff and facilities for research and development. This paper argues that the attitude of the cable industry towards research and development was less conservative and altogether more complex than historians have suggested. Focusing on the crucial case of the Eastern Telegraph Company, the largest single operator of submarine cables, it shows how the company encouraged inventive activity among outside and in-house electricians and, in 1903, established a small research laboratory where staff and outside scientific advisers pursued new methods of cable signalling and cable designs. The scale of research and development at the Eastern Telegraph Company, however, was small by comparison with that of its nearest competitor, Western Union, and dwarfed by that of large electrical manufacturers. This paper explores the reasons for this comparatively weak provision but also suggests that this was not inappropriate for a service-sector firm.
William Bateson vigorously objected to the assumptions within the chromosome theory of heredity proposed by T. H. Morgan because he perceived inadequate experimental data that could substantiate the theory. Those objections were largely resolved by 1921, and Bateson reluctantly accepted the basic assumption that chromosomes carried the genetic factors from one generation to the next. Bateson's own research at that time on developmental genetics seemed out of touch with the general tone of the genetics field, and the chromosome theory did not provide illuminating mechanisms that elucidated phenomena such as plant variegations or chimeras. Bateson imagined a general theory of heredity and development based on vortices and waves, concepts he borrowed from contemporary physics. For decades he sought to devise an intellectually and aesthetically satisfying theory to eventually explain evolution in genetic terms, but his aspirations remained unfulfilled when he died in 1926.