Babson collection of Newtonia to be housed at Burndy Library


The Dibner Institute for the History of Science and Technology, located at MIT, has announced the transfer of the Grace K. Babson Collection of the works of Sir Isaac Newton from Babson College in Wellesley to permanent deposit at the Dibner Institute's Burndy Library.

Scholars in the history of 17th- and 18th-century science regard the Babson Collection as the greatest assemblage of Newton materials in North America and one of the three or four finest in the world.

Newton developed the foundations of calculus, as well as those of mechanics and optics, at the end of the 17th century. His mathematics and his physical theories are considered the most influential factors in directing the subsequent course of quantitative science until well into the 20th century.

The 600-volume Babson Collection includes important printed editions of all of Newton's works, together with commentaries and treatises relating to Newton's scientific writings by his contemporaries and later scholars. It also contains a number of Newton manuscripts, unique artifacts, portraits, books from Newton's own library and a large reference collection of secondary sources.

Roger Babson, founder of Babson College, purchased the collection, subsequently added to it and housed it at Babson College. Over the years, officers of the college had grown increasingly determined to see to it that the collection receive the scholarly attention and use it deserves. They were also concerned that it be housed in facilities to ensure its long-term physical protection, preservation and security.

Babson, therefore, decided that the most appropriate new home for the collection would be the Dibner Institute and Burndy Library, an international center for advanced research in the history of science and technology, with a recently constructed rare-book library and museum and its own valuable collection of Newton materials.

One of the features that makes the Babson Collection so important is that it contains all the editions, translations and major commentaries on both the Principia and Opticks that appeared in Newton's lifetime and in the succeeding two centuries. There are also editions and translations of Newton's System of the World and Optical Lectures and the several publications of Newton's contributions to mathematics. Many of these appear in the collection in variant issues of great rarity and value. The collection also contains the printed editions of Newton's writings on chronology and religious subjects and the principle associated volumes, commenting on, explaining or criticizing Newton's scientific and nonscientific works.

A notable treasure is a copy of the first edition of the Principia that contains annotations made by both Newton and Edmund Halley, who edited the volume for the press and read the proofs. The manuscripts in the collection are especially interesting, representing Newton's thinking and research on Biblical questions such as the dimensions of Solomon's temple, alchemy and other areas. The Babson Collection also contains the Newton's death mask, owned by Thomas Jefferson, as well as prints and paintings.

The Burndy Library was established in 1936 by Bern Dibner. An internationally recognized private collection of some 45,000 rare books and manuscripts in the sciences and technology, the library was located in Norwalk, CT, for many years, adjacent to the corporate headquarters of the Dibner-founded Burndy Corp. In 1992, the library was moved to Cambridge to form part of the newly established Dibner Institute for the History of Science and Technology, a center for advanced research in the field, located in the Dibner Building (E56) on the MIT campus.

Professor Jed Z. Buchwald is director of the Dibner Institute and the Burndy Library, and Dr. Evelyn Simha is executive director of both. Christine A. Ruggere is librarian of the Burndy Library.

An international scholarly symposium on Isaac Newton is planned for the fall of 1995 to welcome the Babson Collection.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on March 1, 1995.


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