Synopses & Reviews
In Notebooks, English Virtuosi, and Early Modern Science, Richard Yeo interprets a relatively unexplored set of primary archival sources: the notes and notebooks of some of the leading figures of the Scientific Revolution. Notebooks were important to several key members of the Royal Society of London, including Robert Boyle, John Evelyn, Robert Hooke, John Locke, and others, who drew on Renaissance humanist techniques of excerpting from texts to build storehouses of proverbs, maxims, quotations, and other material in personal notebooks, or commonplace books. Yeo shows that these men appreciated the value of their own notes both as powerful tools for personal recollection, and, following Francis Bacon, as a system of precise record keeping from which they could retrieve large quantities of detailed information for collaboration.and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;The virtuosi of the seventeenth century were also able to reach beyond Bacon and the humanists, drawing inspiration from the ancient Hippocratic medical tradition and its emphasis on the gradual accumulation of information over time. By reflecting on the interaction of memory, notebooks, and other records, Yeo argues, the English virtuosi shaped an ethos of long-term empirical scientific inquiry.
"Behind most great books lies a great set of notes--typically left unnoticed or neglected unto loss. In this delightfully innovative and lucidly written study, Yeo opens a whole new perspective on the central figures of the Royal Society in the seventeenth century by delving deeply into the surviving evidence of their note-taking. Whether messy or neat, kept on loose sheets or in notebooks, notes were essential tools for Baconian empiricism, which served to relieve the memory and to facilitate collaboration with others."
and#8220;Yeo has written a learned, lively, and provocative book. He shows us that the English virtuosi of the seventeenth centuryand#8212;long famed as the creators of a new method for studying the natural worldand#8212;learned their ways of capturing, storing, and accessing observations of nature from erudite humanists, who had devised them for making excerpts from books. Two hundred years and more into the age of print, a cultivated memory and a carefully cultivated set of notebooks remained as central to the practices of many innovative natural philosophers as they had been to those of scholars like Petrarch and Erasmus. Yet, as Yeo also makes clear, these virtuosi compiled and understood their records in novel ways. In building their sets of data, Robert Hooke and others came to see the study of nature as a long-term enterprise, necessarily disciplined and collaborativeand#8212;and to envision notebooks not only as an aid to memory and reflection, but also as part of a formal archive that would grow and change and serve the creation of new theories for generations to come.and#8221;
"In this book, Yeo gives a vivid and insightful account of note-taking in scientific circles in seventeenth-century England, dealing both with well-known figures like Robert Boyle and John Locke and lesser men like Thomas Harrison and John Beale. He stresses how Francis Bacon's emphasis on the accumulation of empirical information complicated the inherited humanist tradition of 'commonplacing,' and he has very interesting things to say about the way in which memory and note-taking are interrelated. The book reaches a climax with Yeo's account of Robert Hooke's vision, in the context of the early Royal Society, of aand#160;databank that might be bothand#160;cumulative and analytic."
and#8220;Lively and learned, Yeoand#8217;s book opens new vistas on early modern science and scholarship. Through a careful examination of scientific notes and note-taking, he shows how the virtuosi of the seventeenth century retooled old scholarly conventions for new empirical applications and created new ways of managing and sharing information. Yeoand#8217;s book at once illuminates the deep history of our information culture and the striking novelties of seventeenth-century science.and#8221;
"Yeo should be commended for his exquisite and meticulous scholarship. With a bibliography tallying over 650 items, instructive visuals, and penetrating primary source analyses, his book represents a substantial achievement. Its intellectual vision should be of interest not only to researchers of early modern Europe, but also to anyone curious about cognitive transformations, the social implications of recordkeeping, the evolution of reading practices, the enduring impact of Francis Bacon, or the effects of information overload in a historical context. Notebooks, English Virtuosi, and Early Modern Science also helps reveal that that the history of science should be seen as a subset of a more holistic intellectual history that details how people from many walks of life dealt with organizing knowledge. Yeoand#8217;s volume brilliantly uncovers uncharted connections between writing and thinking that indelibly transformed seventeenth century life."
"Absorbing and complex."
"Yeoand#8217;s prose is always clear and to the point, often lively and blessedly free of jargon or arcane esoterica. . . . Anyone who has struggled to devise and maintain their own system of working notes is likely to find much of interest in these pages; the conceptual and practical difficulties of handling information which our distant predecessors encountered inevitably encourage reflection on oneand#8217;s own practices."
"Nuanced and compelling. . . . A highly original contribution to a series of recent works that augment the picture of how empirically grounded scientific thinking grew and functioned in early modern England."
andquot;Yeo breaks new ground in making sense of the manuscripts left behind by a series of major figures including John Beale, Robert Boyle, Samuel Hartlib, Robert Hooke, and John Locke. . . . essential reading for anyone studying the early Royal Society or seventeenth-century natural philosophy. The questions it raises, moreover, are much wider in scope than its apparent focus on a small circle of canonical figures. Yeo has made an important contribution to the study of early modern information management practices and his cautious, insightful reconstruction of notebooks and note-taking, together with his determination to unpack the semantic subtleties of contemporary actorsandrsquo; categories, make this a book which should inform the research of intellectual historians working on a wide variety of times, places, and texts.andquot;
Notebooks and note-taking have topical interest today, because people wonder how the appearance of new media technologies has influenced our old pen-and-paper practices. Richard Yeoand#8217;s book shows us how some of the key figures in the Scientific Revolution adapted their practices to the new needs of empirical inquiry. Specifically, Notebooks and English Virtuosi explores the note-taking practices of scientific virtuosi in early modern England. It interprets the extensive notes and notebooks of John Locke and other leading members of the Royal Society of London, as well as several other significant figures inside and outside England, all of whom kept and reflected on notebooks. These figures, including Samuel Hartlib, John Evelyn, Robert Boyle, and Robert Hooke, and their network of friends and correspondents, drew upon Renaissance practices of excerpting from texts to build storehouses of material in personal notebooks (usually commonplace books). However, they also adjusted this method of note-taking and its rationale. Yeo considers their reflections on the best use of memory, notebooks, and other records in the collection and analysis of the empirical information sought by the early Royal Society. Francis Bacon was a crucial mentor: his call for the accumulation of data in natural histories as a basis for scientific explanations demanded a new kind of note-taking.and#160;
About the Author
Richard Yeo is adjunct professor in the School of Humanities, Griffith University, Australia, and a fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities. He is the author or editor of numerous books, including Defining Science and Encyclopaedic Visions.
Table of Contents
2. Capacious Memory and Copious Notebooks
3. Information and Empirical Sensibility
4. Taking Notes in Samuel Hartliband#8217;s Circle
5. Rival Memories: John Beale and Robert Boyleon Empirical Information
6. Robert Boyleand#8217;s Loose Notes
7. John Locke, Master Note-taker
8. Collective Note-taking and Robert Hookeand#8217;s Dynamic Archive