Part of the Science Networks. Historical Studies book series (SNHS, volume 39)


To those for whom labeling is helpful, the period in which Hooke lived and worked is the “early modern” period and the birthplace of the “scientific revolution.” It is generally understood that the modern world itself springs from developments in philosophy and science (natural philosophy) during this period. But however we see that transformation, we now know, if we did not already, that Robert Hooke was one of the most important contributors to it. And yet when we assess his achievements, which are of the very highest order, we sometimes expect too much of him, or judge him by standards that we might not apply to his contemporaries. This fate has probably befallen Hooke most of all because of the inevitable comparison with one of the few genuine giants, Isaac Newton, but also, surely, because of Hooke’s status as essentially a transitional figure. If he was a flag bearer in the march toward the institutionalization of science, if he was one of the very first professional scientists, if not the very first (other than university dons), if he was one of a handful of figures who created a revolution in natural philosophy, he was also captive of his past, most especially in the way in which he did science, or, one might say, in the way he was forced to do science. But whatever Hooke did, almost none of it could have happened without the Royal Society of London. There is hardly a better example than Hooke’s of a career that was shaped almost entirely by the times and the culture in which he lived, and in his particular case, the opportunity and the straight-jacket provided by his employment by the Royal Society on the one hand, and the fire that pushed him into surveying, construction, and architecture almost at the start of his career as a scientist, on the other.


Royal Society Seventeenth Century Mass Grave Centripetal Force Natural Philosopher 
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© Birkhäuser Verlag AG 2009

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