The Early Royal Society and the Classification of Scientific Images

Katie Reinhart & Sietske Fransen (CRASSH, Cambridge)

The Royal Society archives contain thousands of images that vary widely in size, quality, medium, and creator. How do we begin to organise and understand this diverse archival collection and make it accessible to the scholarly community? What is more, how did founding members of the Society classify them? Based on our findings in the Royal Society archives, this paper will investigate the classification of images in the first fifty years of the Royal Society, both then and now. What kind of images found their way into the Royal Society? How were they received and understood by the early Fellows? And how were they used, and reproduced into further communications and publications? This talk will explore the advantages and challenges of classifying scientific images, and raise preliminary questions about how we understand visual material in early modern contexts.

Images from the Royal Society Archives: Skinned rat’s testicle, by Antoni van Leeuwenhoek (EL/L1/52/004b); Francis Potter’s cart with legs, by Robert Hooke (EL/P1/40/003); and a mathematical diagram relating to the “problema austraicum” (Cl.P/24/5a/002-003).