Archive for April, 2014

Some first class history of science reading for the holiday weekend: Giants’ Shoulders #70: The Sir Hans Sloane Birthday Collection

April 17, 2014

At a lose end on Good Friday or Easter Monday? Read up on the best history of science bloggage from the last thirty days gathered from the far reaches of cyberspace for your pleasure.

Lisa Smith (@historybeagle) has put together a wonderful edition of the histories of science, medicine and technology blog carnival Giants’ Shoulders to celebrate the birthday of Augustan physician, scientific official, and collector, Sir Hans Sloane, just in time for the holiday weekend.

The next edition of Giants Shoulders #71 will be presented here at the Renaissance Mathematicus on 16 May 2014. Submission as ever to me here at RM or on Twitter by 15 May at the latest.

Giants’ Shoulders #70 celebrates a birthday.

April 9, 2014

Hans Sloane is one of those figures in the history of science, who deserves to be much better known than he is. Although Sloane Square in London is named after him, giving name to one of the horrors of modern English culture, the Sloane Ranger, most people would be hard put to it to say who he was.

An Irish physician who lived through the second half of the seventeenth century and the first half of the eighteenth, he was a central figure in the English scientific community that included Hooke, Wren, Halley, Flamsteed and Newton as well as many other less well known personages. He was secretary of the Royal Society when Newton became its president in 1704 and very much shared the power with the great Sir Isaac in that august body until he resigned in 1713, after a series of power struggles with other council members over the preceding years. He got his revenge however when he was elected president following Newton’s death in 1727, a post he retained until 1741.

He served three English monarchs, Anne, George I and George II, as royal physician and was appointed baronet for his services in 1716. He was also elected president of the Royal College of Physicians in 1719 a post he would hold for sixteen years. In 1722 he also became physician-general to the army.

From the modern point of view Sloan’s most important activity was that of collector. Scientific curiosity cabinets were very much en vogue in the Early Modern Period and Sloane collected scientific curiosities on an almost unbelievable scale. When he died, in 1753, he donated his monster collection to the nation on the condition that the government build a museum to house it. The government agreed and so the venerable British Museum was born. Later Sloane’s natural history collection was given a home of its own leading to the establishment of the Natural History Museum.

Like many of his contemporaries, and in particular the collectors, Sloane was a prolific letter writer and, as is befitting in this digital age, his correspondence has its own blog. To celebrate Sir Hans’ 354th birthday, on 16 April, Giants’ Shoulders #70, the history of science, medicine and technology blog carnival  will take place at The Sloane Letters Blog hosted by our favourite blogging beagle, Lisa Smith (@historybeagle). Submission for this special birthday edition of Giants’ Shoulders should be made either direct to the host or to me at RM or to either of us on Twitter at the latest by 15 April.


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