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LibraryThing: Newton Week 15: Newton

Reading 1: Background

# Due Date Pts Activity Time
2 Wednesday
11:59 p.m.

Topic 1 + Quiz
Background: Without a sense of context, history is anachronistic.
Primary sources: Without documentary evidence, history is speculation
The first of two topic assignments per week involving both background and primary sources.

90 min.

There are three background readings for this week: one about Newton, and two others you have seen before:

  1. "Introduction" to Let Newton Be!, by John Fauvel. Be sure to pay attention to the many interesting illustrations in this essay. It is available as a pdf within the Content area of Desire2Learn (15 MB).
  2. Re-read the Welcome message you originally read the first week of the semester. Does it make more sense now that we are nearing the end of our journey? Pay particular attention to the time-travel tips, and to the features of the grid defining science that explain how the boundaries between science and non-science were fluid and vigorously contested.
  3. Re-read the comments about the character of historical knowledge ("historiography") made in the introductory essays about Stonehenge. Do not re-read Crowe's Appendix, just the online essays linked to from this page. Focus not on the specific example of Stonehenge, but on the general points made about history. Do these comments make more sense now? Do they fit what you have learned about the history of science during the course of the semester?


TOPIC QUIZ: The statements are either True or False. When you take the quiz at Janux, you will see 12 of these statements, chosen at random, worth 2 points each.

  1. T or F? Newton regarded the cosmos as consisting of qualitatively differentiated regions of space, where each region followed its own particular laws.
  2. T or F? Newton insisted that physics must explain the actual physical cause of gravity.
  3. T or F? The poet Alexander Pope wrote ‘God said, Let Newton Be! and All was Light.’
  4. T or F? According to Fauvel, Newton produced the most coherent ‘system of the world’ since Plato and Aristotle.
  5. T or F? Most physicists today have read Newton’s Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy (1687).
  6. T or F? John Maynard Keynes purchased Newton’s manuscripts in 1936 and made them available for scholarship at Cambridge University.
  7. T or F? William Blake wrote that the terrors of Newtonian science hung ‘like iron scourges’ over society.
  8. T or F? Fauvel argues that Newton was more ambivalent and complex than common portrayals of scientific method allow.
  9. T or F? Newton showed that rays of white light consist of a mixture of light of different colors.
  10. T or F? Fauvel suggests that according to Newton, proper scientific explanations rely upon experiment and prediction rather than on guessing the causes of things.
  11. T or F? On the basis of his chemical investigations, Newton accepted the reality of active forces such as gravitation.
  12. T or F? Newton lived before Galileo.
  13. T or F? Newton was a member of the British Parliament in 1689-1690.
  14. T or F? Newton’s father was a well-known university physician.
  15. T or F? Of all Newton’s childhood friendships, his relationship with his mother was the deepest, most stable, and most consistent, and remained always a chief source of warmth and comfort to him.
  16. T or F? Newton’s scientific education was acquired mostly through his own self-directed reading.
  17. T or F? In 1665, Newton left Cambridge University to avoid the plague, and returned home.
  18. T or F? When he held the Lucasian Chair of Mathematics at Cambridge, Newton became renowned for his well-attended, standing-room-only lectures, which students described as engaging, dynamic and charismatic.
  19. T or F? Newton’s friend Edmond Halley invented the Reflecting Telescope.
  20. T or F? In 1700 Newton became Master of the Mint.
  21. T or F? According to Magruder, history is contingent.
  22. T or F? According to Magruder, our knowledge of history is contingent.
  23. T or F? While the past is unchanging, our knowledge of the past is ever-changing.
  24. T or F? According to Magruder, the historian of science's first question is what they got right.
  25. T or F? According to Magruder, studying history involves trying to forget present knowledge for the moment in order to see the world from the point of view of the historical figures themselves.
  26. T or F? According to Magruder, one goal of historical understanding is to make even the most idiosyncratic or odd characteristics of people of the past, from our point of view, seem believable after all.
  27. T or F? According to Magruder, a good first question about Stonehenge would be how accurate were its astronomical alignments?
  28. T or F? According to Magruder, a good first question about past figures is what did they think they were doing?
  29. T or F? According to Magruder, rational reconstruction is presentism.
  30. T or F? According to Magruder, rational reconstruction is the same fallacy as the Whig interpretation of history.
  31. T or F? According to Magruder, rational reconstruction leads to precursor-itis.
  32. T or F? According to Magruder, historians should make it one of their primary goals to identify the first occasion of any modern idea in the past.
  33. T or F? According to Magruder, historians should attempt to answer all questions about the past.
  34. T or F? According to Magruder, historians attempt to explain presently-existing artifacts of the past.
  35. T or F? One of the three time-travel tips suggested for this course was to seek understanding of past perspectives before making judgments about them.
  36. T or F? Newton insisted that to describe matter and motion according to mathematical laws should count as science ("Natural Philosophy"), even if the causes were left unspecified.


Do you have a great quote for this page? Let me know! (If used, a new quote is worth 1 point extra credit)

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HSCI 3013. History of Science to 17th centuryCreative Commons license
Kerry Magruder, Instructor, 2004
Brent Purkaple, TA

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Many thanks to the pedagogical model developed in Mythology and Folklore and other online courses by Laura Gibbs, which have been an inspiration for this course.

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This course is currently undergoing major reconstruction to bring it into alignment with the new version of the course at Janux