By Jindan Chen*
Before going to Rob Iliffe’s talk on The Newton’s Project on February 28th, I skimmed through this incredibly comprehensive website about Isaac Newton. Absolutely, it is an exciting on-line read.
“The Newton Project” is the name of a non-profit organization which builds up this website. The primary goal of this website is to digitize and publish on-line all Newton’s writings from 1642 to 1727. As of today, the outcome of the goal has been over 5.2 million transcribed words online! The project started in 1998 and was housed at Imperial College London. It secured funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Board in UK. It is entirely surprising to find out what a variety of primary sources about Newton this website has put together, which include Newton’s own various notes and letters, scientific or religious, and his friends or rivals’ accounts of him.
It is no doubt that such a website is of enormous research value for historians as it removes the big hassle of reading Newton’s difficult handwritings. The website is just like a vast, handy digital archive. But what gets me really excited about this website is the easy access it provides to the public to get a closer look at the almost symbolic figure of Newton. I would like to assume the design of “Take A Tour” on the home page gives the public a chance to take a quick view of a multi-dimension Newton, a real Newton who they do not get to know before. For example, I was fascinated by the biographical accounts written by Newton’s good friends John Conduitt and William Stukeley, and his Royal Society colleague and competitor John Flamsteed. These texts give me a new perspective to approach Newton as a person less mysterious. In addition, things like Jean-Baptiste Biot’s biography of Newton and Newton’s own letter to John Locke add to a richer understanding of this legendary genius. Continue reading