Steven Shapin’sbook, A Social History of Truth (1994),came under criticism from many different historians. Margaret Jacob argued thatShapin’s work continued to widen the gap that was evident in the “conventionalnarrative” of English history of all aspects, such as politics and religion,and more specifically the history of English science.
She claimed thathistorians had become ignorant regarding the widely known chronology thatsurrounded their expertise.1More recent works on the Restoration years in England, such as Keeble’s The Restoration: England in the 1660s,have a more detailed account of the intellectual developments that coincidedwith the religious and political unrest of the era, expanding into more areasthan previous single-minded works, and therefore showing a more contextualisedunderstanding of new English science in the seventeenth century. The link betweenEnglish science in the seventeenth century and religion is explored in Hall’s A Revolution in Science 1500-1750.
Heargues that the progression of religion and science were often considered”inseparable objectives”, which is partially due to most scientists up untilthe mid-seventeenth century being profoundly religious men.2 A well-known example of this is Robert Boyle,a Catholic, and Samuel Hartlib, a Puritan reformer who was influenced byFrancis Bacon’s work in the first quarter of the century, seeing it to bearticulating many of the Puritan beliefs; Boyle went on to be a founder the Royal Society, which essentially ledthe way for new scientific thought following the Interregnum, and Hartlib isrecognised as a key influencer in its establishment due to his networking ofintellectuals.3 Hall’sclaim supports the idea that the religious unrest in the country, that onlyintensified following the death of Elizabeth I in 1603 with constantlyswitching between Protestant and Catholic leaders and a plethora of dissentinggroups from the mainstream beliefs, led to a need for new knowledge andinformation. In this period, science as we now know it was generalised as’natural philosophy’ alongside mathematics and many other philosophicaldebates.4In knowing this, Hall’s statement that in this period, there was “no generalconflict between science and religion”5can be seen as credible as they were not opposing disciplines like they aretoday. Instead, it can be understood from Hall’s writing that research and studyinto nature derived from a deep love and awe for God, and a need to discoverthe world He created. In other words, Hall has chronicled the ideologicalconnection that was present between science and religion in theseventeenth-century. Despite religious uncertainty, belief became a catalystfor developed research and new thinking and in some ways, science acted as away for religious intellectuals to increase their relationship with God throughunderstanding the world.
In contrast tothis, science has also been presented as a way for the Church of England to create peace in the riftthat had developed among the population due to the ever-changing state religion.In his articles from 2009, John Morgan describes Thomas Sprat’s History of the Royal Society,commissioned by the Royal Society in 1663 to demonstrate the immediate publicvalue of their experiments and research into English expansion6,as “appropriating the… benefits of the Royal Society as support for are-established, anti-Calvinist Church of England”.7Sprat used this platform to produce an “Anglican-royalist” view on the “omni-competence”of the restored monarchy and state church, and uses links to the adoption ofIsraelite history used by Royalists during the civil war to reformulate theconvention of God making England a “radically reconfigured Israel” through the reformation.8 The relationshipbetween travel, trade and England’s colonial expansion and their contributionsto natural philosophy became a key study point for the Royal Society and itsscientists in the late seventeenth-century. This is evident in that many members of the “Royal Adventurers intoAfrica” charter (granted by King Charles II, and would be replaced by the RoyalAfrican Company in 1672) were, or would go on to be, fellows of the RoyalSociety; the most notable of these was Sir Joseph Williamson, who becamePresident of the society in 1677.9The Society put a lot of emphasis into the promotion of overseas trade, withSprat referring to it as the “twin sister” to the Royal Adventurers into Africacompany in his History, saying that “new science and improved trade gohand in hand”.
10Keeble’s account of the Royal Society in TheRestoration (2002) shows that what Jacob had argued in her review ofShapin’s work was no longer relevant in some works of the new millennium. Hedevelops his research past the singular narrative displayed by Shapin toinclude events such as the expansion of overseas trade, and also Sprat and JohnEvelyn’s concern to the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire to become the”most advantageous Seat of all Europe, forTrade”11and create a city that would coincide with developing technologies of the time.Keeble’s work provides an authentic outlook by using contemporary sources, suchas the diaries of Evelyn and Samuel Pepys, to form his argument. In the firstpart of his Foreign Bodies paper,Robert Illiffe truly highlights the significance of English travellers andtheir contribution to the new science, mainly through fellowship of the RoyalSociety. He reiterates in both his abstract and introduction of the lack ofhistorical literature that gives attention to the importance of this,immediately showing that Jacob’s claim in 1994 was accurate, yet no longerrelevant only four year later. Illiffe asserts that the large numbers of young,English gentleman initially travelling overseas during the reign of Elizabeth Icame from a “need to acquire social accomplishments”12,yet considerably transformed over the seventeenth-century as the interests andpurpose of travelling changed, especially over the Interregnum.
Travel had cometo replace university for many young men in the 1660s, creating the ‘gentleman’and ‘scholar’ simultaneously through the accomplishments and experienceacquired by travelling13rather than in education and social hereditary like had previously been. Thiswas a vital part of the Royal Society’s values, which can be seen in many ofthe journeys that Illiffe recounts belonging to future members of the Society,including Boyle, Evelyn and Robert Southwell. Many travellers took residency inFrance and Italy despite the xenophobic, cultural and social issues that theyoung gentleman held; the experiences served to draw these young men away fromthe initial prejudices that they held about the European, as seen in EdwardBrowne’s letters to his father in the early 1660s.14Illiffe uses the changing attitudes of the restored nation to understand how theprogression of the new science was a revolution in the way of intellectual thinking;travelling had become a successful part of a genteel upbringing, which theRoyal Society respected, because thetravellers had shared a part of the new culture they were experiencing,overcoming the arrogance that is partnered with English Protestantcharacteristics and learning from encounters with a variety of cultures and”histrionic” lecturers.15 The RoyalSociety was involved in the creation of instructions and guidelines for travellers,which are believed to have been used by the East India Company during its firstcentury of operation; the focus of the East India Company at this time wastrade rather than the building of a global empire. Winterbottom argues that theRoyal Society had an ongoing collaboration with the East India Company, seen initiallythrough the production of Robert Knox’sAn Historical Relation of the Island of Ceylon, in order to lay claim to thewealth that knowledge of the Eastern hemisphere would yield by using theseguidelines.16 The expansion of knowledge of the East from increasedtravelling make it possible to question their motives.
The idea of knowledgefor the sake of knowledge versus knowledge for the sake of wealth is questionedusing evidence such as the Inquiries forSuratte, where amongst honourable scientific questions are those regardingthe growth of precious metals17,and also Knox’s remark on the East India Company bring ‘not only the Wealth butthe Knowledge of the Indies’.18Yet the subscriptions from readers that financed the publication of Knox’s work19show that the demand for new information was there. Winterbottom uses herarticle to indicate the want for the new philosophical discoveries at the time,understanding that the post-restoration era acted as a catalyst for newintellectual thinking, like mentioned regarding religion. Bacon’s 1625 essay On Travel highlights that travelaccounts were designed to be used on journeys in order for comparisons andcorrections to be made, and were not just for entertainment purposes20;the development of travel texts in the later years acted as aids for the newwave of travellers seen during and after the 1660s. Furthermore, Winterbottom’saccount of the so-called “bio-prospecting” of islands that Knox visited, andthe similar instances from the Dutch and French East India Companies21,show the beginnings of the rising British Empire, and the discernible race forcolonisation of new lands between many European countries, arguably fuelled bynew scientific theory based on Knox’s findings on plants and crops.
22The article clearly demonstrates the connection between the Royal Society’scollaboration with the East India Company and the profound effect that newscientific discoveries had on the colonial expansion and transportation ofgoods that was vital to the chronology of the late-seventeenth –early-eighteenth centuries. In conclusion,it is evident that historians writing since the mid-1990s use a deepened understandingof the chronology of major events in the seventeenth century to contextualisetheir knowledge on the history of science. More specific works that establish the connection of new English scienceto related themes of religion, travel and colonialism, but also politics andsociety, of the seventeenth-century provide a better understanding of thehistory of science as a whole. This then proves a change in attitude of historiansto their writing than what Jacob accused Shapin of in her review of A Social History of Truth, decreasingthe “widening gap” that she claimed was present23by recounting the conventional narrative of constitutional history coincidingwith the history of science.1 MargaretJacob, “Review” review of A SocialHistory of Truth: Civility and Science in Seventeenth-Century England, bySteven Shapin, Albion: A QuarterlyJournal Concerned with British Studies: Vol. 27, No.
2 (1995) 3002 RupertHall, The Revolution in Science 1500-1750.Longman, 1998 Eighth edition, 1193G. H. Turnbull, “Samuel Hartlib’s Influence onthe Early History of the Royal Society.
” Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London 10, no. 2 (1953): 101-30. http://www.jstor.org/stable/530806.4 RuthWatts.
“Gender, science and modernity in seventeenth-century England.” PaedagogicaHistorica, 41: 1-2 (2005): 79-93, accessed January 11 2018 DOI:10.1080/00309230420003354755 Hall,The Scientific Revolution, 1206 JohnMorgan, “Science, England’s “Interest” and Universal Monarchy: The Making ofThomas Sprat’s History of the Royal Society”, History of Science 47.1 (2009): 277 JohnMorgan, “Religious Conventions and Science in the Early Restoration:Reformation and ‘Israel’ in Thomas Sprat’s Historyof the Royal Society (1667)”, BritishJournal for the History of Science 42 (2009): 3218Ibid, 327, 3449 “WilliamAllen, slavery, and the Royal Society” Accessed January 12 2018, https://royalsociety.org/topics-policy/diversity-in-science/black-history/slavery/10N.H. Keeble, The Restoration: England inthe 1660s.
Oxford, UK: Blackwell (2002) 20311Ibid.12 RobertIlliffe. “Foreign Bodies: Travel, Empire and the Early Royal Society of London.Part 1. Englishmen on Tour” CanadianJournal of History 33.3 (1998) 360. DOI: 10.3138/cjh33.
3.35713Ibid, 38514Ibid, 36915Illiffe, Foreign Bodies. 38416 AnnaWinterbottom, “Producing and using the HistoricalRelation of Ceylon: Robert Knox, the East India Company and the RoyalSociety.” British Society for the Historyof Science 42.
4 (2009) 517 DOI: 10.1017/S000708740900220917 “Inquiriesfor Suratte, and Other Parts of the East Indies” Accessed November 30 2017 http://rstl.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/2/23-32/415.
full.pdf+html18 Winterbottom,”Producing the Relation.” 524.19 Ibid,516.20 Ibid,517.21 Ibid,532.22 Ibid.
23 Jacob,”Review of A Social History”. 300.