“You can see Newton’s mind at work…”

To add to the open access treasure trove at the Royal Society, Cambridge University Library is putting online some of its collection of books, maps, manuscripts and journals.

We have called the first phase of our work on the Cambridge Digital Library the Foundations Project, which runs from mid-2010 to mid-2013 and has been made possible through a lead gift of £1.5m by Dr Leonard Polonsky. This generous support will enable the Library to develop its technical infrastructure and create significant content in the areas of faith and science – two areas of particular strength within our collections.

And they’re starting with the library’s collection of the scientific papers of Isaac Newton (1642-1727).  As the Guardian reports

So far, more than 4,000 pages, about 20% of the university’s Newton archive, have been put into digital form as part of a programme that will eventually give the public access to the papers of other famous scientists, ranging from Darwin to Ernest Rutherford. Included in the papers are the handwritten notes made after Newton’s death, in 1727, by his colleague Thomas Pellet, who was asked by relatives of the great scientist to examine the papers with a view to publication.

Pellet’s dismissive note, saying “Not fit to be printed”, can be seen on some pages – which are now, inevitably, among those most closely studied. It is thought Pellet was attempting to censor some of Newton’s more juvenile calculations and, more urgently, stifle his unorthodox religious views.

Grant Young, the university library’s digitisation manager, said: “You can see Newton’s mind at work in the calculations and how his thinking was developing. His copy of the Principia contains pages interleaved with the printed text with his notes.”

You can browse the Sir Isaac Newton’s copy of Philosophiæ naturalis principia mathematica here.


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