The 18th century was a rich period in the history of science, including the publication of the final edition of Newton’s work, the acceptance of the Copernican system by the Church, and the active role of Jesuit observatories in observing the Transits of Venus. One hero of this era is Fr. Roger Boscovich, who (among his other accomplishments) first proposed the modern atomic theory of matter.
- 369 pages
- Level: university
Searching the Heavens and the Earth: The History of Jesuit Observatories, is a 2003 book by Agustín Udías, S. J. of the Department of Geophysics and Meteorology, Universidad Complutenese (Madrid, Spain). From the publisher:
Jesuits established a large number of astronomical, geophysical and meteorological observatories during the 17th and 18th centuries and again during the 19th and 20th centuries throughout the world. The history of these observatories has never been published in a complete form. Many early European astronomical observatories were established in Jesuit colleges.
During the 17th and 18th centuries Jesuits were the first western scientists to enter into contact with China and India. It was through them that western astronomy was first introduced in these countries. They made early astronomical observations in India and China and they directed for 150 years the Imperial Observatory of Beijing.
In the 19th and 20th centuries a new set of observatories were established. Besides astronomy these now included meteorology and geophysics. Jesuits established some of the earliest observatories in Africa, South America and the Far East.
Jesuit observatories constitute an often forgotten chapter of the history of these sciences.
Below are two reviews of this book by astronomers with the Vatican Observatory:
- Book review by Fr. Sabinao Maffeo, S. J., in the Journal for the History of Astronomy, 2005 (PDF, courtesy of NASA ADS).
- Book review by Br. Guy Consolmagno, S. J., in the Archivum Historicum Societatis Iesu, 2007 (PDF).
- 234 pages
- Level: all audiences
This book by Marvin Bolt was published in 2009, the year of the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s use of the telescope. It provides a readable history of the telescope by way of highlighting items that are on exhibit in the “Telescopes: Through the Looking Glass” exhibit at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago. Scattered throughout this beautifully illustrated book can be found references to the works of various clerics, such as Bartholomaeus Anglicus (1203-1274), Ferdinand Verbiest (1623-1688), Francesco Bianchini (1662-1729), and others. Those planning a visit to the Adler might enjoy a look through this book in advance.
From the publisher, Adler Planetarium:
Through the Looking Glass celebrates the 400th anniversary of the telescope and the 2009 International Year of Astronomy. This exhibition catalogue focuses on ninety-nine artifacts from the Adler Planetarium’s world-class collection of historic telescopes. From the simple lenses of the world’s earliest telescopes 400 years ago to the complex computer-driven mirrors of current telescopes, these tools have gathered information about our nearest astronomical neighbors and the most distant objects in the universe. Through the Looking Glass examines this story through select rare books, works on paper, telescopes, and other instruments from the Adler Planetarium’s collection. Introductory paragraphs provide background information for each of four time periods, with each section featuring artifact entries that describe each object’s place in the fascinating history of the telescope. Telescope-makers intended for their work to be looked at as well as looked through. With this catalogue, readers can enjoy the craftsmanship of telescope-making over the centuries, and catch a glimpse of their importance and of the significant discoveries they enabled.
Click here for a preview of Telescopes: Through the Looking Glass.
Adler Planetarium website for the exhibit entitled “Telescopes: Through the Looking Glass”—click here.
Article 1000 words Level: all audiences An article published in Aeon in 2017 by Blake Smith, a PhD candidate in history at Northwestern University in Illinois and the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences in Paris. Click here to access this article directly from Aeon. The Madras Observatory offers little to the visitor’s eye. Stone slabs and broken pillars lie ignored in a fenced-off section of a local weather centre in the southern Indian city of Chennai. Few tourists venture out to see the ruins of the 18th-century complex. On the other side of the subcontinent, in northern Indian cities such as New Delhi, Varanasi and Jaipur, remains of the Jantar Mantars, vast astronomical stations, are far more popular attractions. Built in the same century as the Madras Observatory, their stark geometric structures, with looming proportions and vibrant colours, make for mandatory stops on travellers’ itineraries. Yet it is the Madras Observatory, and not the spectacular Jantar Mantars, … Continue reading →
- Article (book chapter)
- 20 pages
- Level: university
“The Pope and the Englishwoman: Benedict XIV, Jane Squire, the Bologna Academy, and the Problem of Longitude”, by Paula Findlen of Stanford University, is a chapter in Benedict XIV and the Enlightenment: Art, Science, and Spirituality, a collection of essays concerning the mid-eighteenth-century papacy of Benedict XIV (Prospero Lorenzo Lambertini), published by the University of Toronto Press. Findlen tells the story of Jane Squire, an English Catholic who had worked out a new system of celestial navigation and who was determined that her ideas be heard by the establishment. As she was unable to get a hearing in England, in 1743 Squire wrote to Pope Benedict XIV, who was open to the scientific work of women. From the article:
Squire argued: “my being a Woman, excludes me not from the Blessing of being a Christian; a Character that determines the Business of the reasonable Creature; by a Determination made by its Creator”… Squire characterized herself as someone naturally drawn to mathematical problems as a pleasing pastime: “to study the Law of God Day and Night, is my proper Business; Philosophy, my Amusement; and Mathematicks, my Play-things… I see not therefore, why I should confine myself to Needles, Cards, and Dice.”
Benedict took notice of Squire’s letter and had her work reviewed by Italian scholars. Unfortunately, Squire died shortly after sending her letter, and her system of navigation was not practical.
- 4 pages
- Level: university
This 2004 article by Miguel de Asúa was published in the Journal of Astronomical History and Heritage.
Abstract: Many of the observations of Buenaventura Suárez (1679-1750), a Jesuit astronomer who worked in the missions of Paraguay, were made known in prestigious contemporary scientific European periodicals such as the Acta Societatis Regiae Scientiarum Upsalensis and the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. Suarez recorded lunar and solar eclipses, and immersions and emersions of the satellites of Jupiter for the purpose of determining the longitude of the mission towns he lived in. He was able to keep abreast of the state of the field and communicate his results through the intermediacy of an epistolary net with correspondents in Europe and the New World.
- 240 pages
- Level: university
This book by Massimo Mazzoti, published by Johns Hopkins University Press in 2007, covers the life and times and work of Maria Gaetana Agnesi, a remarkable eighteenth-century woman who lived in a unique period of Italian history when Italy was perhaps the only place where women were encouraged to pursue serious study in math and science.
From the publisher:
She is best known for her curve, the witch of Agnesi, which appears in almost all high school and undergraduate math books. She was a child prodigy who frequented the salon circuit, discussing mathematics, philosophy, history, and music in multiple languages. She wrote one of the first vernacular textbooks on calculus and was appointed chair of mathematics at the university in Bologna. In later years, however, she became a prominent figure within the Catholic Enlightenment, gave up the academic world, and devoted herself to the poor, the sick, the hungry, and the homeless. Indeed, the life of Maria Agnesi reveals a complex and enigmatic figure—one of the most fascinating characters in the history of mathematics.
Using newly discovered archival documents, Massimo Mazzotti reconstructs the wide spectrum of Agnesi’s social experience and examines her relationships to various traditions—religious, political, social, and mathematical. This meticulous study shows how she and her fellow Enlightenment Catholics modified tradition in an effort to reconcile aspects of modern philosophy and science with traditional morality and theology.
Mazzotti’s original and provocative investigation is also the first targeted study of the Catholic Enlightenment and its influence on modern science. He argues that Agnesi’s life is the perfect lens through which we can gain a greater understanding of mid-eighteenth-century cultural trends in continental Europe.
- Article (letter)
- 1500 words
- Level: all audiences
In 1791 Benjamin Banneker, a self-taught American astronomer, sent a copy of the astronomical almanac (that he published throughout the 1790’s) to Thomas Jefferson, then Secretary of State for the United States. Much of the letter, however, addresses the issue of slavery and its conflict with belief in God as creator of all. Banneker writes:
[O]ne universal Father hath given being to us all, and that he hath not only made us all of one flesh, but that he hath also without partiality afforded us all the Same Sensations, and endued us all with the same faculties, and that however variable we may be in Society or religion, however diversifyed in Situation or colour, we are all of the Same Family, and Stand in the Same relation to him.
Sir, if these are Sentiments of which you are fully persuaded, I hope you cannot but acknowledge, that it is the indispensible duty of those who maintain for themselves the rights of human nature, and who profess the obligations of Christianity, to extend their power and influence to the relief of every part of the human race, from whatever burthen or oppression they may unjustly labour under, and this I apprehend a full conviction of the truth and obligation of these principles should lead all to.
- Article (PDF)
- 12 pages
- Level: university
Fr. George V. Coyne, S. J., Director of the Vatican Observatory from 1978 to 2006, presents four case histories which indicate that the relationship between religion and science has, in the course of three centuries, passed from one of conflict to one of compatible openness and dialogue, to show that the natural sciences have played a significant role in helping to establish the kind of dialogue that is absolutely necessary for the enrichment of the multifaceted aspects of human culture, whether traditional or modern. He argues that the approach of science to religion in each of these periods can be characterized respectively as: (l) temptress, (2) antagonist, (3) enlightened teacher, (4) partner in dialogue.