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.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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