[Humanist] 29.87 curiosity, intelligence, skill: a correction
Humanist Discussion Group
willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Wed Jun 10 14:08:55 CEST 2015
Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 29, No. 87.
Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
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Date: Fri, 5 Jun 2015 13:23:30 +0200
From: Huib Zuidervaart <huib.zuidervaart at huygens.knaw.nl>
Subject: Re: 29.74 curiosity, intelligence, skill in surprising (?) places
Dear colleague Willard McCarty,
In Franeker, at the famous Eisinga Planetarium, the following is indeed said:
"He made it to show his fellow citizens of Franeker that an unusual conjunction of planets (a syzygy, as it's called) on 8 May 1774 did not betoken the total destruction of the earth."
However, it is a nice story, but untrue.
Eise Eisinga started already his calculations for his planetarium in 1773, the year before, when this hypothesis by the reverend Eelco Alta had not yet been published.
The origin of this conjunction-story is the Franeker professor Jan Hendrik van Swinden, who learnt about the existence of this planetarium only in (or shortly before) 1780.
It is well known that Van Swinden exaggerated the scientific meaning of this planetarium.
See about the fear for the End of the World in 1774, stirred up by the reverend Eelco Alta from Bozum, the 1984-publication in the Frisian language:
Philippus H.Breuker, 'Acht Maaie 1774: Panyk en Ferljochting', De Vrije Fries 64 (1984), pp. 26-46.
See further on the over-estimated phenomenon of the Frisian mathematical autodidacts, my recent publication in the Dutch language:
'De Friese 'Boerenprofessor': Realiteit of mystificatie?', De Vrije Fries 93 (2013) 101-124.
On Wytze Foppes, and his strange scientific guesswork, see my 1995-book:
Speculatie, wetenschap en vernuft. Fysica en astronomie volgens Wytze Foppes Dongjuma (1707-1778), instrumentmaker te Leeuwarden (Leeuwarden: Fryske Akademy, 1995).
My very best regards,
Dr. Huib Zuidervaart,
Senior Researcher, Dept. History of Science
Huygens Institute for the History of the Netherlands
Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences
The Hague, The Netherlands
Van: Humanist Discussion Group <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk<mailto:willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>>
Onderwerp: [Humanist] 29.74 curiosity, intelligence, skill in surprising (?) places
Datum: 3 juni 2015 19:21:21 CEST
Aan: <humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org<mailto:humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org>>
Antwoord aan: Online seminar for digital humanities <humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org<mailto:humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org>>
Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 29, No. 74.
Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org<mailto:humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org>
Date: Wed, 03 Jun 2015 18:14:15 +0100
From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk<mailto:willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>>
Subject: curiosity, intelligence, skill
Recently I had the good fortune to be taken by friends to the Eise
Eisinga Planetarium in Franeker, Friesland, in the Netherlands. This
planetarium was built by the Dutch wool-carder Eise Eisinga between 1774
and 1781 in the living-room of his house. It replaced his ceiling; its
intricate mechanism is in the loft. It works to this day. It is made of oak,
lead weights and, it is said, 10,000 nails. He made it to show his
fellow citizens of Franeker that an unusual conjunction of planets (a
syzygy, as it's called) on 8 May 1774 did not betoken the total
destruction of the earth. For more on this see
If you've ever had work done to your house or done it yourself,
you can infer the admirable toleration of Eisinga's family while
the thing was being constructed.
All very interesting, but what I carried away from the Frisian 18C
planetarium for Humanist were some examples of ordinary working men,
Eisinga the wool-carder and several others, who learned sufficient
mathematics, physics and engineering skills, while making a humble
living (as we might consider it), to build scientific instruments and
explore as much of the universe as could be seen by them. Eise Eisinga's
teacher was Wytze Foppes, born 16 September 1707, a carpenter by trade,
who "was initiated into the secrets of mathematics and astronomy by a
surveyor.... Foppes trained himself in making astronomical instruments
and instructed Eise Eisinga. He also wrote various booklets and articles."
Another. "Arjen Roelofs was born in Hijum on 31 March 1754. Together
with two of his brothers, Pieter and Albert, he worked on his father's
farm. All three brothers were fascinated by subjects such as mathematics
and physics. Even during their work in the fields they recorded their
observations -- on the handles of their wooden tools or on wooden doors.
The brothers also made meteorological observations and built their own
thermometers and barometers. And they used a kite to investigate
lightning.... Arjen was the most gifted.... Despite the fact that he had
attended the village school for only a few years, he could solve all
kinds of problems in the fields of mathematics and physics. He also
calculated the timing of many astronomical phenomena such as solar and
lunar eclipses between 1778 and 1820."
Curiosity, intelligence, what the Germans call Fingerspitzengefül and
much more. Perhaps our surprise to find these virtues so brilliantly
manifested in Frisian working men says more about us, or as much, as it
does about them?
Willard McCarty (www.mccarty.org.uk/ http://www.mccarty.org.uk/ ), Professor, Department of Digital
Humanities, King's College London, and Digital Humanities Research
Group, University of Western Sydney
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