Exhibitions Update: Scientific Revolutions

Sir Isaac Newton’s groundbreaking work on classical mechanics, Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (“Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy”), was first published in London in 1687. In this book, Newton, a Cambridge University mathematics professor, expounded the laws of motion and universal gravitation.  Photograph by Lee Pellegrini.

Sir Isaac Newton’s groundbreaking work on classical mechanics, Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (“Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy”), was first published in London in 1687, QA803 .A2 1687 General. In this book, Newton, a Cambridge University mathematics professor, expounded the laws of motion and universal gravitation. Photograph by Lee Pellegrini.

If you haven’t yet seen the Burns Library’s Scientific Revolutions exhibition, stop by today and enjoy this display of early scientific books in the Thompson Room.  Even if you don’t visit Burns today, you can still enjoy all of these books in the Burns Library Reading Room whenever the Burns Library is open.  This exhibition features a first edition of Sir Isaac Newton’s groundbreaking work Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica (“Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy”), popularly known as the Principia. In January 2010, the Burns Library and Boston College Libraries, in collaboration with the Boston College Department of Physics, became one of the select institutions to acquire this volume. About 250 copies of this edition were printed in 1687, of which fewer survive in the present.   Sir Isaac Newton, 1643 – 1727, arguably the most influential scientist in human history, was appointed Lucassian Professor of Mathematics at Trinity College, Cambridge University in 1669.   He was knighted by Queen Anne in 1705, the first scientist to be so honored.  The Principia, wherein Newton formulated the three laws of motion and the law of universal gravitation, marks the transition from what used to be called Natural Philosophy to physics.  Albert Einstein declared Principia to be “perhaps the greatest intellectual stride that it has ever been granted to any man to make.”

Pictured here are pages 12 and 13 of Book I of the Principia, 1723 edition, where Newton’s three laws of motion appear.  Newton’s Laws mark the transition from Natural Philosophy to modern science and form the foundation of physics.  Newton’s Laws of Motion, faithfully translated from Newton’s Latin, are as follows: Law I   All bodies persist in their state of rest or move uniformly in (fixed) direction, except to the extent that an impressed force is known to change their state. Law II.  The change of motion is proportional to the force impressed and occurs in the straight line along which that force presses.  Law III.  Reaction is always opposite and equal to the action:  that is mutual actions of (any) two bodies are always equal and oriented in opposite directions.  Translation by Professor Andrzej Herczynski.  Photograph by Lee Pellegrini.

Pictured here are pages 12 and 13 of Book I of the Principia, 1723 edition, where Newton’s three laws of motion appear. Newton’s Laws mark the transition from Natural Philosophy to modern science and form the foundation of physics. Newton’s Laws of Motion, faithfully translated from Newton’s Latin, are as follows: Law I All bodies persist in their state of rest or move uniformly in (fixed) direction, except to the extent that an impressed force is known to change their state. Law II. The change of motion is proportional to the force impressed and occurs in the straight line along which that force presses. Law III. Reaction is always opposite and equal to the action: that is mutual actions of (any) two bodies are always equal and oriented in opposite directions. Translation by Professor Andrzej Herczynski. Photograph by Lee Pellegrini.

The Burns Library also owns a second Amsterdam edition of the Principia, which is the first edition to publish together Newton’s letters on his system of calculus and the Principia.  The picture to the right shows pages 12 and 13 of Book I from the 1723 edition, where Newton’s three laws of motion appear.  This exhibition also included books by Copernicus, Galileo, Clavius, Kircher, Schott, Scheiner and Grassi. These books are available to you in the Burns Library Reading Room during our open hours.  Please call the Burns Library Reading Room at 617-552-4861 or e-mail us at burnsref@bc.edu if you have any questions or would like more information about this exhibition.  Many thanks to Boston College Physics Department Research Associate Professor Andrzej Herczynski for writing the label text for the two editions of the Principia, which labels make up the bulk of this post.

  • Justine Sundaram, Reference Librarian/Bibliographer, Burns Library

About John J. Burns Library of Rare Books and Special Collections at Boston College

The University’s special collections, including the University’s Archives, are housed in the Honorable John J. Burns Library, located in the Bapst Library Building, north entrance. Burns Library staff work with students and faculty to support learning and teaching at Boston College, offering access to unique primary sources through instruction sessions, exhibits, and programming. The Burns Library also serves the research needs of external scholars, hosting researchers from around the globe interested in using the collections. The Burns Library is home to more than 200,000 volumes and over 700 manuscript collections, including holdings of music, photographic materials, art and artifacts, and ephemera. Though its collections cover virtually the entire spectrum of human knowledge, the Burns Library has achieved international recognition in several specific areas of research, most notably: Irish studies; British Catholic authors; Jesuitica; Fine printing; Catholic liturgy and life in America, 1925-1975; Boston history; the Caribbean, especially Jamaica; Nursing; and Congressional archives.
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