Newton’s thought processes exposed online
Isaac Newton’s own annotated copies of his works, notebooks and manuscripts are being made available online by Cambridge University Library and the University of Sussex with JISC funding.
Digitised title page from
Newton’s own copy
Researchers, students and the public can now zoom in to each page to explore texts like Principia Mathematica in incredible detail and make use of transcriptions to understand Newton’s mind – and handwriting.
Alastair Dunning, programme manager at JISC, said: “The end results of Newton’s work are world famous but his notebooks and annotations give a rather different insight into the process that he went through to get there. JISC looks to share insights like those with as wide an audience of possible and digitising this collection means that researchers and students now have online access wherever they are.”
However, while the two universities have received JISC funding to help expose Newton’s papers to the eyes of the world, a closer look at some of the pages from the newly digitised archive reveals that not all his peers thought his output should be shared so openly.
Several of the manuscripts in the collection contain the handwritten line ‘not fit to be printed’, scrawled by Thomas Pellet, a Fellow of the Royal Society, who went through Newton’s papers after his death to decide which ones should be published.
Project manager Rob Iliffe, Professor of Intellectual History and History of Science at the University of Sussex, said: “The publication of these foundational texts, thanks to funding from JISC, represents the result of a great deal of hard work put in by both the Cambridge and Sussex teams over the past year. It is a significant milestone in the work of the Newton Project, and with access to nearly five million words of Newton's personal, scientific and religious writings, readers can now look at Newton's creativity in its broadest contexts.
Cambridge University librarian Anne Jarvis said: “With great collections comes a responsibility to make these as accessible as we can. Now, through the use of new technologies and with vital support from the Polonsky Foundation and bodies such as the JISC, we are able to open up our collections in ways that would have been inconceivable a few years ago. Wherever possible we will seek to enhance our digital collections by aligning them with scholarly research.
“Our initial collection, the Newton Papers, is a good example. Through our collaboration with the Newton Project at the University of Sussex, we’ve been able to provide superb transcriptions alongside the images of many of Newton's manuscripts.”
Launching the website with more than 4,000 pages of its most important Newton material, Cambridge University Library will upload thousands of further pages over the next few months until almost all of its Newton collection is available to view and download anywhere in the world.