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Newton and the Origin of Civilization$
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Jed Z. Buchwald and Mordechai Feingold

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780691154787

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: October 2017

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691154787.001.0001

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Evidence and History

Evidence and History

(p.423) 13 Evidence and History
Newton and the Origin of Civilization

Jed Z. Buchwald

Mordechai Feingold

Princeton University Press

This chapter describes how the interest generated by Isaac Newton’s astronomical chronology extended well into the nineteenth century. Newton’s purpose in bringing calculation to bear on history was meant to ground it upon a more secure foundation. Moreover, for a time the Chronology mattered a great deal. A modern reader may find the text disagreeable and unworthy of serious attention. To Enlightenment readers, however, the very dryness of Newton’s book and its matter-of-fact format of presentation only heightened its revolutionary content. Versed in the sources upon which Newton drew, they recognized his inventiveness and ability effectively to handle the relevant literature. As Augustus De Morgan—an appreciative critic of Newton—put it in 1846: “his ideas on chronology, founded on the assumption of an accuracy in the older Greek astronomers which nobody now allows them, are rejected and obsolete. But the work does honor to his ingenuity and his scholarship, showing him to be not meanly versed in ancient learning.”

Keywords:   Isaac Newton, astronomical chronology, nineteenth century, calculation

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