Notebooks, English Virtuosi, and Early Modern Science

Richard Yeo

Richard Yeo

384 pages | 17 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2014
Cloth $45.00 ISBN: 9780226106564 Published March 2014
E-book $7.00 to $36.00 About E-books ISBN: 9780226106731 Published March 2014
In Notebooks, English Virtuosi, and Early Modern Science, Richard Yeo interprets a relatively unexplored set of primary archival sources: the notes and notebooks of some of the leading figures of the Scientific Revolution. Notebooks were important to several key members of the Royal Society of London, including Robert Boyle, John Evelyn, Robert Hooke, John Locke, and others, who drew on Renaissance humanist techniques of excerpting from texts to build storehouses of proverbs, maxims, quotations, and other material in personal notebooks, or commonplace books. Yeo shows that these men appreciated the value of their own notes both as powerful tools for personal recollection, and, following Francis Bacon, as a system of precise record keeping from which they could retrieve large quantities of detailed information for collaboration.
The virtuosi of the seventeenth century were also able to reach beyond Bacon and the humanists, drawing inspiration from the ancient Hippocratic medical tradition and its emphasis on the gradual accumulation of information over time. By reflecting on the interaction of memory, notebooks, and other records, Yeo argues, the English virtuosi shaped an ethos of long-term empirical scientific inquiry.
Anthony T. Grafton, Princeton University
“Yeo has written a learned, lively, and provocative book. He shows us that the English virtuosi of the seventeenth century—long famed as the creators of a new method for studying the natural world—learned their ways of capturing, storing, and accessing observations of nature from erudite humanists, who had devised them for making excerpts from books. Two hundred years and more into the age of print, a cultivated memory and a carefully cultivated set of notebooks remained as central to the practices of many innovative natural philosophers as they had been to those of scholars like Petrarch and Erasmus. Yet, as Yeo also makes clear, these virtuosi compiled and understood their records in novel ways. In building their sets of data, Robert Hooke and others came to see the study of nature as a long-term enterprise, necessarily disciplined and collaborative—and to envision notebooks not only as an aid to memory and reflection, but also as part of a formal archive that would grow and change and serve the creation of new theories for generations to come.”
Ann Blair, Harvard University
“Behind most great books lies a great set of notes—typically left unnoticed or neglected unto loss. In this delightfully innovative and lucidly written study, Yeo opens a whole new perspective on the central figures of the Royal Society in the seventeenth century by delving deeply into the surviving evidence of their note-taking. Whether messy or neat, kept on loose sheets or in notebooks, notes were essential tools for Baconian empiricism, which served to relieve the memory and to facilitate collaboration with others.”

Daniel Rosenberg, University of Oregon
“Lively and learned, Yeo’s book opens new vistas on early modern science and scholarship. Through a careful examination of scientific notes and note-taking, he shows how the virtuosi of the seventeenth century retooled old scholarly conventions for new empirical applications and created new ways of managing and sharing information. Yeo’s book at once illuminates the deep history of our information culture and the striking novelties of seventeenth-century science.”
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