History of Mathematics at St Andrews

Artist's impression of the mathematician and astronomer, James Gregory, working in the Upper Hall (now the King James Library) at the University of St Andrews. Copyright University of St Andrews

Workshop on Mathematical and Astronomical Practices in pre-Enlightenment Scotland and her European Networks

23-24 Nov, 2018, St Andrews

Outline of meeting:

The workshop will focus on Scottish natural philosophy and mathematics, and their innovative developments between 1550 and 1750. The astronomical observatory James Gregory founded at the University of St Andrews in 1673, six years behind Paris, but two years ahead of Greenwich, is just one example of relevant institutional initiatives that were taking place in 17th-century Scotland. However, despite the major shifts in scientific culture taking place elsewhere, traditional Scottish historiography of the period has been framed in terms of religious factions. The question of how scientific innovations flourished in this context has been little addressed.

To understand this question, we are particularly interested in mathematical practices related to measurement both in astronomy and in contexts such as navigation, surveying, cask gauging, grain measuring, and so on. Early modern professional gaugers and measurers were essentially authoritative mediators, often at the service of local authorities, powerful lords, or the crown itself, mediating between merchants, bankers, landowners, town dwellers, and public authorities. Some apparently paradoxical processes of conceptual change in early modern mathematics, such as of ratio and proportionality, can only be understood by examining the mathematical collective tacit knowledge developed through practices with measuring instruments. Such instruments, and the associated practices, concepts, and books, circulated through networks of exchange.


pdf version of programme and abstracts, as of 21-11-18

Friday 23 Nov
9.00-9.30 Registration
9.30 Alison Morrison-Low (National Museums of Scotland): Surviving scientific instruments from early modern Scotland: a survey
  Samuel Gessner (Lisbon): Thinking with instruments and the appropriation of logarithms on the Iberian Peninsula around 1630
11.00 Coffee
11.30 Kevin Baker (Oxford): Practices of Reading the Principia: How contemporaries engaged with Newton's book in the years immediately after publication
  Olivier Bruneau (Lorraine): Colin MacLaurin (1698-1746): a Newtonian between theory and practice
13.00 Lunch
14.00 Visit to Special Collections to see St Andrews' collection of Medieval and Early Modern mathematics and astronomy books
15.30 Tea
16.00 Steve Russ (Warwick): John Napier: the mysterious making of a mathematician
  David Horowitz (St Andrews): John Craig (1663-1731)
9.00 Davide Crippa (CNRS, Sphere): James Gregory and his Italian readers : beating untrodden paths
  Pilar Gil (St Andrews): Building an astronomical observatory in the knowledge community of St Andrews in the 17th century
  Bruno Almeida (Lisbon): Mathematics and Navigation: Pedro Nunes' works in England in the sixteenth century
11.00 Coffee
11.30 Alex Craik (St Andrews): George Sinclair on Hydrostatics
  Jane Wess (Edinburgh): Colin MacLaurin on Wind and Water: the Local and the Universal
13.00 Lunch
13.45 Albrecht Heefer (Ghent): The difficult relation of surveyors and algebra: the hundred geometrical questions of Cardinael
  Philip Beeley (Oxford): 'There are Great Alterations in the Geometry of Late': Isaac Newton's early Scottish circle
15.15 Closing discussion
15.45 Close


This event is organised in conjunction with the British Society for the History of Mathematics and sponsored by the British Society for the History of Science, the Royal Astronomical Society and the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications, to whom many thanks.