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Translating Newton

(p.1) Chapter 1 Introduction
Before Voltaire
J.B. Shank
University of Chicago Press

Questioning the old story of a "Newtonian Revolution" whereby Isaac Newton's 1687 Principia is said to singly lay the foundations of modern mathematical physics, giving birth through the reception of the text to what we now call "classical Newtonian mechanics," my book offers instead an approach that stresses the knotty historical translations involved in moving from the science found in the Principia to the later science attributed to this book and its author. In the beginning is the translation, I argue, and this “Introduction" explores the complexities involved in translating Newton's idiosyncratic and highly abstruse text into European scientific currents after 1690. It also explores the historiography that has treated these questions already, dividing the literature into two groups, that of the "Newtonian Revolutionaries" and that of the "Mathematical Archaeologists." It also articulates my own program which is to build with the "Mathematical Archaeologists" a deeply historical and contingent account of how calculus-based analytical mechanics was assembled in France in the period 1685-1715. The introduction concludes by offering a synoptic overview of the book overall, and its specific arguments in each part.

Keywords:   Isaac Newton, Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica, Newtonian mechanics, analytical mechanics, the calculus, Newtonian Revolution, Mathematical Archaeologists, Pierre Varignon, Académie Royale des Sciences, Bernard de la Bovier de Fontenelle

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