The History of the Newton Project

The Newton Project was created in 1998 under the general editorship of Rob Iliffe and Scott Mandelbrote. It seeks to make available online diplomatic and normalised transcriptions of all of Newton's private and published writings, along with full documentation relating to his use of sources such as the books now in the library of Trinity College Cambridge. In due course these transcriptions will be embedded in a rich contextual field, including (where possible) translations, links to images of the originals and a full critical apparatus. A significant part of the project will be concerned with the problem of establishing the relationships between the various surviving texts, and with editing them in the context of Newton's known reading and intellectual exchanges.

In 1999, the Arts and Humanities Research Board gave the Newton Project sufficient funding to support two transcriber/encoders, one full-time and one part-time, for five years. From the beginning John Young has produced the vast majority of text on the site and has ensured that the transcriptions conform to the best practices of the Text Encoding Initiative, while Mike Hawkins has been the technical director of the project since 2002. The project was originally housed at Imperial College London under the directorship of Rob Iliffe and was given the title of the Newton Manuscript Project. The most pressing early task was to ascertain and develop best practice for the online edition. Young accomplished the crucial preliminary task of establishing detailed transcription and tagging guidelines, and with Iliffe and Peter Spargo he was responsible for completing the online catalogue of Newton's theological, alchemical and administrative papers, which was released in 2001.

Since our first releases in October 2001, we have added some four million words of Newton's unpublished writings and have expanded into the publication of mathematical, scientific, personal and biographical material. Further funding was secured from the Arts and Humanities Research Council at the end of November 2004, and we secured two more years of funding in the spring of 2011. These awards will enable us to release transcriptions of all of Newton's religious writings by the end of 2013. This process requires the creation of scholarly apparatus as well as providing hyperlinks both to other Newton texts and to other resources such as images from his library and to modern articles on Newton.

After Rob Iliffe's appointment as Professor of Intellectual History and History of Science at the University of Sussex in 2007, the project's centre of operation moved to the south coast. In 2007, a substantial grant from the Royal Society enabled us to begin work on transcribing the manuscript drafts of the 'Queries' that Newton appended to the successive editions of his Opticks - a text generally acknowledged to be one of his most significant contributions to scientific thought, and one in which the interplay of scientific and theological reasoning is most searchingly explored.

In 2009 and 2011 the project made two successful bids to the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) to support the transcription and publication of Newton's mathematical and scientific works. In 'Enlightening Science' the project worked with a number of schools and other institutions to make Newton's scientific works accessible to a broader readership; this included incorporating the innovative use of videos to reproduce core Newtonian experiments from the eighteenth century. 'Windows on Genius' is an on-going and highly successful collaboration with Cambridge University Digital library to make images of Newton's foundational scientific and mathematical works accessible alongside searchable transcriptions of the materials.

© 2017 The Newton Project

Professor Rob Iliffe
Director, AHRC Newton Papers Project

Scott Mandelbrote,
Fellow & Perne librarian, Peterhouse, Cambridge

Sponsored by:

  • University of Sussex
  • Arts and Humanities Research Council
  • JISC