Maurice Daumas’ classic study of the development of scientific instruments in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (here translated, edited and brought up to date by Dr Mary Holbrook, herself a distinguished historian of science) was first published in France. Until the appearance of this pioneer work, historians of science had failed to grasp the complexity of the circumstances surrounding the invention and successful production of the instruments of research. The emphasis had traditionally been on the ‘pure scientist’ and, so it was thought, the history of scientific progress could be told as the story of a few theorists working in isolation. While the theoretical scientist was originally his own instrument maker, the increasing complexity of the problems he had to solve and the consequent need for higher standards of exactitude forced him into collaboration with the mechanic.
Daumas’ work emphasises the mutual dependence of theorist and craftsman and the in-ability of science to make significant advances until the two branches achieved an equilibrium, each serving and stimulating the other. The seventeenth century saw the start of this partnership and with it the foundation of our technologically based civilization. The mechanics in the workshops of France, England, Holland, Germany and Italy, whose instruments are collected today as much for their beauty as for their historical importance, have had as profound an influence on the present shape of the world as have the statesmen, monarchs and soldiers which history commonly celebrates. Scientific Instruments and their Makers deals with the history of the development of scientific instruments on two levels. First, the general preconditions are established, i.e. those factors operating in the societies of the time which permitted men, ideas, finance and necessity to coincide in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and lead to such an unprecedented flowering of scientific achievement. Second, a consideration of how these general conditions made themselves felt in the workshops themselves. Who were the craftsmen (and this book provides the only source of information on the French makers and their works) and exactly which instruments can be attributed to them (information particularly valuable to the collector)? What part did they play in the creative process? What was the relationship, financial and intellectual, between them and the theoretical scientist? Each of these areas of enquiry is directed in turn to the main countries most advanced in scientific research during these seminal years.
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