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John Dee is a name that often conjures up images of shady spells muttered in dark rooms with bubbling potions, but the exhibition at the Royal College of Physicians, titled Scholar, Courtier, Magician: the Lost Library of John Dee seeks to offer a view of Dee as an articulate, extremely well-read, educated man.
Early in his study of radio in the USSR, Stephen Lovell quotes Rick Altman: ‘new technologies are always born nameless’ (p. 2). New technologies, that is to say, do not arrive with a self-evident purpose, and are understood initially relative to what already exists.
Both as a historical focus and as a narrative vehicle of ‘otherness’, the depiction of technological marvels has often seemed tantalizingly vague. In Orientalist scholarship à la Said, it also ended up being ultimately irretrievable across the mutually reinforcing mirrors of East and West.
Between school and university I worked for a year as a lab technician in Dulwich Hospital in south London. After some months, I had developed sufficient expertise to be asked to make extra blood tests on a patient whose illness had proved impossible to diagnose.
'I am a physicist, not a historian' (p. ix). This is how Steven Weinberg, one of the most eminent scientists of our time, has chosen to begin his effort to encapsulate the historical development of the scientific method.
In the latest of our occasional Reviews in History podcast series, Daniel Snowman talks to Peter Burke about his background, career, influences and forthcoming book.
Peter Burke is Professor Emeritus of Cultural History at the University of Cambridge.
Daniel Snowman is a writer, lecturer and broadcaster on social and cultural history.
This is a deeply flawed book, although it is not completely without merit. Mayer, who died (in January 2014) as this book went to press, may have been an accomplished scholar of ecclesiastical history (1), but was a relative novice in Galilean scholarship.
We have a sense of living on in our children and their children, an endless biological chain of being. Or in our work, small or large, in our influence upon others; or in something we call spiritual attainment, some sort of religious idea or belief; or in the idea of eternal nature, which all societies symbolize in some way.
In a letter of March 1693, the German polymath Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz confessed to the ineffectiveness of his note-taking, sketching out a situation perhaps too familiar to many modern academics:
'Big’ technologies like the railways, the electric telegraph and the steamer seem to attract ‘big’ narratives of change. Many scholars have described their effects on the fabric of society and on everyday life as ‘revolutionary’.