About the Newton Project
The Newton Project was conceived in 1998 and took on formalised existence with funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Board at the beginning of 1999. Our aim is to make it possible, for the first time in history, to grasp the organic unity of Newton's writing by garnering all his astonishingly diverse productions into a single, freely accessible electronic edition. Scholars with the time, leisure and finance to wade through hundreds of thousands of words of often intractable handwriting have come up with many intriguing theories about connections and interrelations between the apparently disparate subjects that fascinated Newton, but until now, readers without those advantages have simply not been in a position to examine the evidence.
It has been suggested, for instance, that Newton's alchemical studies generated the imaginative spark that led him to formulate the theory of gravity, and that his almost abstract concept of God was predicated on his unique insights into mathematics. Big questions have been asked too about whether or not the categories we impose on knowledge are relevant to his work at all. Would Newton himself have understood our distinctions between 'scientific', 'mathematical', 'alchemical' and 'theological' papers? And if so, to what extent did he perceive them as interrelated? By presenting the entire body of his work in a freely accessible, electronically searchable online version, the Newton Project will enable users to draw their own conclusions about these and similar issues.
Our vision is of a complete edition of Newton's manuscript and print legacy. This will include not only his mathematical and optical works, but also his extraordinary (and until recently largely neglected) 'non-scientific' writings. Newton's well-nigh obsessive interest in transmutational alchemy and his highly original and unorthodox theological views are of great interest both in their own right and for the light they shed on the thought and character of one of the world's greatest scientific geniuses. We intend to make the documents that chart these interests accessible free of charge to any Internet user, featuring:
- complete text-encoded transcripts, in both 'diplomatic' and 'normalised' versions - the former recording all the deletions, additions, errors and alterations made in the original document, the latter edited to yield something more like a 'finished' text
- high-resolution facsimile images of all the papers, and of the marginal annotations made by Newton to the books in his library, most of which still survive
- direct linkage of image to transcript, to enable users to verify our transcriptions and to see what Newton's original texts actually look like
- translations of non-English texts (and, ideally, translations of all texts into a variety of other languages)
- full scholarly apparatus and online access to a range of secondary material
- a powerful and versatile search engine
- accessibility in a range of formats according to the requirements and technical resources of different end-users
- interoperative linkage to related sites (so that other corpora can be searched in tandem with Newton's and connections between them more rapidly established and explored)
That is the vision, but we also have a grip on reality. The reality is that images are expensive, as are technical and philological expertise. The corpus is both vast and widely dispersed, and a range of issues has to be thrashed out with each of the institutions and individuals who own or have custody of these manuscripts regarding access, copyright, costs and fees, permission to make images available, and much more in the same vein. Though we have come a long way since 1998, we still have nothing approaching the level of staff, funding and technical know-how to make all this happen. But we really do have the vision and we are getting there. Our head may be in the clouds but our feet are on the ground. Anyone wishing to contribute to our efforts (financially or otherwise) should consult the Support The Newton Project page on this web site. Commercial profit is emphatically not one of our aims, and all money raised will be devoted to the development of the edition.