Back when there wasn't quite as much science to popularize, Francesco Algarotti was the popular science writer of his day -- the 1700s -- and Isaac Newton was the guy whose theories he was intent on making accessible to the masses. His book, despite its title --
Newtonianism for Ladies
-- wasn't just for women either.
"He wanted women to be a part of the [readership], but the intent was to make a book that was accessible to a wide, regular audience," says James Lennox, professor in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Pittsburgh. In fact, Lennox says, that's also the intent of a new lecture series and publishing endeavor about to be undertaken with help from a $600,000 grant from the A.W. Mellon Foundation.
Lennox and the department's fellow faculty are ranked fifth in the U.S. by the prestigious Philosophical Gourmet
report, tied with Harvard and right behind NYU, Rutgers, Princeton and Michigan. The Mellon grant is intended to help Pitt bring greater attention to its strongest academic offerings. It will fund fellowships in the department and Pitt's World History Center, in addition to the new lecture series chronicling how Algarotti popularized Newton's theories, which will be the basis for new University of Pittsburgh Press publications. Paula Findlen, a professor of Italian history at Stanford, will give the first three free lectures Oct. 22-25.
Algarotti's era, Lennox says, "was only 100 years or so after people were becoming educated enough that scientific [books] were written in the vernacular rather than Latin," which had reached only the elite. And although his department's focus may sound daunting to some, the department's undergrad courses regularly pack them in, Lennox reports. Thus, echoing Algarotti's hopes, he says, what the department desires for these and future lectures in the series is to reach the widest possible audience.
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: James Lennox, University of Pittsburgh Department of History and Philosophy of Science