Simon Schaffer

Simon Schaffer teaches the history of science at Cambridge. His collection of essays on inquiry and invention from the Renaissance to early industrialisation, co-edited with Lissa Roberts and Peter Dear, is due next year.

There were fears of revolutionary violence in Paris in the spring of 1773. The police tried to quell the disturbances and make those responsible account for their actions, but they had no success. The trouble spread, first downriver to Normandy, then elsewhere. Statements in the newspapers designed to assuage fears and explain the source of the trouble had little effect, and the crisis lasted...

On the last day of January 1919, the Soviet New Year, the poet Alexander Blok smashed up his father-in-law’s desk. ‘Symbolic action’, Blok recorded pithily in his diary. Michael Gordin’s book helps to explain the action’s symbolism and its violence. Blok’s father-in-law, the desk’s first owner, was the greatest of Russian chemists, Dmitrii Mendeleev,...

It is well enough known that Napoleon’s victory over the Austrian army at Marengo on 14 June 1800 had a major effect on the history of the menu. The surprising haste of the engagement left the French commissariat far behind its commander, whose hunger had to be satisfied with what his cook had to hand: a scrawny chicken butchered with a sabre, some eggs, tomatoes, oil, garlic and a few...

Learned Insane: The Lunar Men

Simon Schaffer, 17 April 2003

Soon after his 70th birthday, Charles Darwin sat down to compose a Life of his grandfather Erasmus, poet and sage of 18th-century Lichfield, brilliant physician, mechanical inventor, incorrigible heretic and evolutionist.* The biography was a mix of piety and polemic. Erasmus Darwin’s fate, his chronic diseases, strenuous urging of social and organic progress, and posthumous obloquy,...

With Great Stomack: Christopher Wren

Simon Schaffer, 21 February 2002

Christopher Wren, England’s best known architect and one of its greatest natural philosophers, experimented with everything: stone and wood, cones and domes, animals and men. He liked to depart from revered authorities. Under his hands plans for a church steeple or an academic hall would turn into a bold revision of Vitruvian schemes, the twitches of an anatomised dog into a startling...

Post-Scepticism

Richard Tuck, 19 February 1987

‘Scientists’ in our culture are (in many disciplines) people who perform ‘experiments’ in ‘laboratories’ and ‘testify’ about them to a wider...

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