Annals of Science, a peer-reviewed academic journal covering the history of science and technology, has published an article, “Antony van Leeuwenhoek’s microscopes and other scientific instruments: new information from the Delft archives.” The article was written by Medaille professor Doug Anderson and Huib Zuidervaart of the Huygens Instituut voor Nederlandse Geschiedenis (Huygens Institute for Dutch History).

The article discusses the scientific instruments made and used by the microscopist Antony van Leeuwenhoek (1632–1723). It is based on Professor Anderson’s discovery of an overlooked document from the archives of Delft notary Joris Geesteranus: an inventory of the possessions that were left in 1745 after the death of Leeuwenhoek’s daughter Maria. The image shows the first page of the inventory. This list sums up the tools and scientific instruments Leeuwenhoek possessed at the end of his life, including his famous microscopes. This information gives new insights into the way Leeuwenhoek began his lens grinding and how eventually he made his best lenses. It also explains more about Leeuwenhoek’s work as a surveyor and a wine gauger. A further investigation of the 1747 sale of Leeuwenhoek’s 531 single-lens microscopes has not only led to the identification of nearly all the buyers, but also helps to explain why only a dozen of this large number of microscopes has survived.Leeuwenhoek-11-Bert

Huygens ING, where Professor Anderson is working as a guest researcher during his current sabbatical semester, is a research institute of the Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen (Royal Dutch Academy of Arts and Sciences).

The Huygens Institute, which calls itself a “humanities laboratory”, focuses on the history of science and textual scholarship. Its mission is to “unravel history with new technology … by stimulating inspiring research and producing innovative tools to open up old and inaccessible sources, and to understand them better.”

The Huygens Institute develops, tests, and applies new computer-based methods to extract more and different information from primary sources than has been possible until now. Within the humanities, that represents a new approach, often called the digital humanities. Using this approach, the historians at the Huygens ING can pose new research questions, provide better answers to old ones, and support the answers with much more data. The Institute’s historians build and retrieve large bodies of text and datasets with hundreds of thousands of records. They also develop the tools that are required for these research projects.

Professor Anderson’s sabbatical project, Leeuwenhoek’s Cabinet of Wonders, is an excellent fit for the Huygens’ digital humanities mission. Anderson’s project, to be published at Lens on Leeuwenhoek, will make available for the first time the more than 1,200 figures illustrating the hundreds of letters full of his microscopic observations that Leeuwenhoek wrote between 1673 and his death in 1723.

  • : Doug Anderson

Posted by: Doug Anderson