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Professor Gerhard Betsch of Tübingen University in Germany spoke on "Early Works in Mathematics and Science" on Tuesday, July 24 in room 301 of Carrier Library.
Dr. Betsch discussed the reasons for collecting rare books, their place in history, and their role in the development of mathematics and science and in developing an understanding of the scientific revolution. The works were displayed in order of their publication, and this display helped place each in the context of the time and how each related to subsequent work.
Dr. Betsch's love and knowledge of the texts was on display as he told of the contentious relationship between Brahe and Keppler, the animus between Newton and Flamsteed, and how Brahe came to lose his nose. Dr. Betsch noted the reluctance with which Copernicus approached publishing his work and directed the audience to the Preface of his work On the Revolutions of Heavenly Bodies added by a Lutheran minister supervising the printing and indicating that these theories were for computational purposes only and might not be true or even probable. Dr. Betsch noted that the existence of the manuscript format of Copernicus' work indicates that perhaps the scientist knew his work might not make it through the printing process intact.
De Revolvtionibus Orbium Coelestium by Nicolaus Copernicus, 1566
Some highlights from Dr. Betsch's notes:
Two "incunabula" (early prints before 1501) were produced in the Venice shop of Augsburg printer Erhard Ratdold (1447 - 1528). Both books are of outstanding quality, with beautiful illustrations carefully arranged with the text.
Johannes de Sacro Bosco's book Sphaera mundi (sphere of the world), printed 1485, and Euclid's Elementa geometriae, printed 1482. Sacro Bosco wrote his book in the first half of the 13th century. It was used as an astronomy textbook until ca. 1700 (!).
The Elementa geometriae is the very first printed edition of the "Elements" of Greek mathematician Euclid (ca. 300 BC) The text is the translation of a certain Campanus de Novara (before 1260) from the Arabic into Latin. This first printing is extremely rare and a bibliophile's dream.
The second edition of Nikolaus Copernicus De revolutionibus orbium caelestium, printed in Basel 1566, contains the text of the first 1543 edition, together with the "Prima Narratio" (first report) on the copernican theory by Georg Joachim Rheticus. Most likely, this book was acquired by "the father of the UVA" Thomas Jefferson himself.
The giant scientist Isaac Newton was represented by his "Method of Fluxions..." (translated, publ. 1736) and by a first edition of his Opticks (London 1704). According to a handwritten inscription, this copy was presented to the first owner (unknown) by the author Isaac Newton Esq. himself, in 1703. The Opticks also include an important mathematical treatise "De quadratura...", as well as Newton's famous classification of algebraic curves of degree three.
Leonhard Euler, nicknamed as Analysis Incarnata (analysis incarnate), is represented by first editions of two of his famous works: Introductio in Analysis Infinitorum (1748) and Methodus Inveniendi ... (1744). (Method of finding curved lines, which enjoy (!) some maximum or minimum property). The former is an introduction to analysis, in fact the first monograph on the subject based on the concept of a function, and "structured" by the various properties of functions. When Euler introduces the number pi, he gives more than a hundred decimal digits.
The latter is Euler's treatise on what is now called calculus of variations, containing, among other important results, Euler's formula for the "cracking load" of a column. Today this problem would be attacked as an eigen-value problem.
Andreas Vesalius' ...de humani corporis fabrica
(on the fabrique of the human body) , presented in the highly praised second
edition of 1555, was the first
reliable book on human anatomy, containing highly sophisticated pictures.
And William Harvey, in his Exercitationes anatomicae... (printed
London 1660, and here presented in the first edition), describes correctly,
for the first time, the circulation of the blood.