Royal Society papers provide science, history resources

Royal Society papers provide science, history resources

Summary: The 350th anniversary of Britain's Royal Society (making it the world's oldest scientific institution) will be marked by the release of a vast library of papers online from the likes of Sir Isacc Newton and Benjamin Franklin. This isn't just science nerd stuff, though.

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The 350th anniversary of Britain's Royal Society (making it the world's oldest scientific institution) will be marked by the release of a vast library of papers online from the likes of Sir Isacc Newton and Benjamin Franklin. This isn't just science nerd stuff, though. This is a treasure trove of history that is easily connected to modern scientific thought.

The library itself can be found at trailblazing.royalsociety.org and is remarkable in its extensiveness. As usual, I'm reading a bunch of books and making miniscule progress on each. However, one that has my interest is The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, a steampunk alternate history involving key figures in the 19th century Royal Society. If I cared to know more about the real advances with which the Society was involved, their Trailblazing website would be a fine place to start.

The site has more modern content, as well, featuring some of Stephen Hawking's early writings on black holes and an article on geo-engineering. One criticism? The site doesn't currently have search capabilities. However, the timeline presentation at least makes for a good class-opening exercise or some interesting exploration for students.

According to the site,

Trailblazing is a user-friendly, ‘explore-at-your-own-pace’, virtual journey through science. It showcases sixty fascinating and inspiring articles selected from an archive of more than 60,000 published by the Royal Society between 1665 and 2010.

However, Royal Society Publishing provides much more extensive resources and is worth adding to a short list of sites to check for research and supplemental class materials.

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Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

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5 comments
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  • Good start

    It looks like a good start, at least. The site has scans of the original documents, which means as a practical matter it can't be indexed, because the spelling and typefaces are so different. (Lowercase s was often written like lowercase f.) I guess at some point volunteers can transcribe the text and either offer it back to the Royal Society or publish it at www.Scribd.com. www.GalaxyZoo.org has been quite successful using that approach, having amateurs classify galaxies from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey.

    In that regard, I suggest using either Windows Vista/7's built-in speech recognition or Dragon Naturally Speaking, which should be faster for most people than typing.
    Rick_R
    • Speech recognition?

      I wonder how the speech recognition programs will handle the problems
      caused by "the spelling and typefaces are so different." Especially the
      lowercase s and f thing.
      levinson
  • RE: Royal Society papers provide science, history resources

    The 'Trailblazing' site is designed only for MS Internet
    Explorer, it does not work well for users of Firefox and
    Chrome browsers. Disappointing that the Royal Society
    have lapsed in providing more enthusiasm than
    intellectual discipline for W. H. F. Talbot's 'An Account
    of Some Recent Improvements in Photography' in giving its
    date as "1837" instead of the real 1841
    WoodLooker
    • Safari

      It seems to work OK using Safari (OS X 10.5) but I haven't poked around
      too much yet.
      levinson
  • RE: Royal Society papers provide science, history resources

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