Turning the Pages: The Hooke Folio


Something truly remarkable happened in January 2006. An unknown 320-year old text was discovered, written by one of the world’s greatest scientists. It contained Robert Hooke’s minutes of the earliest years of the Royal Society’s work and his reflections and comments upon them.

It is difficult to overstate the importance of 17th century science and the scholarly potential of this volume. The Royal Society was created in 1660 as the world’s first independent Fellowship-based academy of science. It promoted the new philosophy of learning by experiment, observation and international correspondence. As the Society’s Curator of Experiments from 1662, Robert Hooke was at the forefront of this revolution and by 1677, he had been appointed Royal Society Secretary.

The Hooke Folio shows its author in both roles, as a working experimental scientist and as an administrator. More importantly, it reveals year-by-year and meeting-by-meeting the intellectual ferment of the period 1661-1691 when science, in the modern sense, was born.

Rivalries and disputes over inventions meant that Hooke did not trust the written account of Royal Society activities left by his Secretarial predecessor, Henry Oldenburg. Therefore the Folio begins with Hooke’s corrective copy of early minutes, intended as a definitive record of the events described. In fact, Oldenburg’s and Hooke’s writings enrich one another.

As Secretary, Hooke drafted original descriptions of Society meetings from the late 1670s and these rough minutes form the second part of the Hooke Folio. Here, the Folio contains material that was lost or distorted in official accounts of the Royal Society’s story, for example fuller versions of major scientific discoveries.

The Hooke Folio is a uniquely interesting record of 17th century science. Now, you can view the secrets of the manuscript by turning pages that have been undisturbed for three centuries.

Royal Society Manuscript MS/847

Autor: Klaus Graf

Historiker und Archivar, Blogger

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