Mathematical and Astronomical Practices in Pre-Enlightenment Scotland and its European Networks: Workshop

Mathematical and Astronomical Practices in Pre-Enlightenment Scotland and its European Networks: Workshop

Friday 23 November 2018 (All day) to Saturday 24 November 2018 (All day)
St Andrews University

Provisional Programme and Registration

Outline of meeting:

The workshop will focus on Scottish natural philosophy and mathematics, and their innovative developments between 1550 and 1750. The astronomical observatory James Gregory founded at the University of St Andrews in 1673, six years behind Paris, but two years ahead of Greenwich, is just one example of relevant institutional initiatives that were taking place in 17th-century Scotland. However, despite the major shifts in scientific culture taking place elsewhere, traditional Scottish historiography of the period has been framed in terms of religious factions. The question of how scientific innovations flourished in this context has been little addressed.

To understand this question, we are particularly interested in mathematical practices related to measurement both in astronomy and in other contexts — navigation, surveying,  cask gauging, grain measuring, and so on. Early modern professional gaugers and measurers were essentially authoritative mediators, often at the service of local authorities, powerful lords, or the crown itself, mediating between merchants, bankers, landowners, town dwellers, and public authorities. Some apparently paradoxical processes of conceptual change in early modern mathematics, such as of ratio and proportionality, can only be understood by examining the mathematical collective tacit knowledge developed through practices with measuring instruments. Such instruments, and the associated practices, concepts, and books, circulated through networks of exchange.

Confirmed speakers include:

  • Antoni Malet (Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona)
  • Alison Morrison-Low (National Museums of Scotland, Emeritus)
  • Pilar Gil (St Andrews)
  • David Horowitz (Golden West College, California, Emeritus)
  • Davide Crippa (CNRS, Laboratoire SPHERE, Paris)
  • Philip Beeley (Oxford)
  • Samuel Gessner (Lisbon)
  • Alex Craik (St Andrews)
  • Jane Wess (Independent)
  • Steve Russ (Warwick)
  • Olivier Bruneau (Lorraine)
  • Albrecht Heefer (Ghent)
  • Kevin Baker (Oxford)
  • Bruno Almeida (Lisbon)

The programme will also include a visit to see St Andrews collection of medieval and early modern mathematics books.

Registration.  If you have queries, please contact Isobel Falconer (

This event is organised in conjunction with the University of St Andrews, and sponsored by the British Society for the History of Science,  and the Institute of Mathematics and its Applictions, to whom many thanks.