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An Eighteenth-Century Medical-Meteorological Society in the Netherlands: An Investigation of Early Organization, Instrumentation and Quantification. Part 1

Huib J. Zuidervaart
The British Journal for the History of Science
Vol. 38, No. 4 (Dec., 2005), pp. 379-410
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4028453
Page Count: 32
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
An Eighteenth-Century Medical-Meteorological Society in the Netherlands: An Investigation of Early Organization, Instrumentation and Quantification. Part 1
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Abstract

In many areas the eighteenth century was a starting point for the quantification of science. It was a period in which the mania for collecting led to the first attempts in systematization and classification. This penchant for collecting was not limited to natural history specimens or curiosities. Due in part to the development of mathematical and physical instruments, which became more widely available, scholars were confronted with the informative value of numbers. On the one hand, sequences of measurements appeared to be the key to the advancement of scientific knowledge, yet on the other hand the mathematical apparatus to deal with these data was still largely lacking. As a result of this the first meteorological networks organized in the eighteenth century all became bogged down in the large amount of information that was collected but could not be processed properly. This development is illustrated in a case study of an early Dutch meteorological society, the Natuur- en Geneeskundige Correspondentie Sociëteit (1779-1802). What were the factors that triggered this interest in the weather in the Netherlands? What were the goals and expectations of the contributors? What were their methodological strategies? Which instruments were used to measure which meteorological parameters? How was the stream of numbers generated by these measurements organized, collected and interpreted? An analysis of this process reveals that limits on the advancement of meteorology were not only imposed by instrumentation and organization. The financing, the scientific infrastructure of the old eighteenth-century Dutch Republic and the lack of a proper theoretical insight were also crucial factors that eventually frustrated the breakthrough of meteorology as an academic science in the Netherlands. This breakthrough was only achieved in the second half of the nineteenth century.

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