Friday, September 28, 2012

De Revolutionibus

Copernicus first published his explanation of the heliocentric universe in 1543, the year of his death, but he had been circulating the idea for nearly 30 years. As early as 1514, he distributed a pamphlet-sized manuscript laying out his views. In a sense it is the birth of the scientific article--a new idea or argument written up and shared among like-minded colleagues--but before the existence of the scholarly journal. Part of his motivation was to get the ideas out for critique, but he also knew just how inflammatory his theories would be.

In 1543, Copernicus was persuaded to publish De Revolutionibus by fellow scientist Georg Joachim Rheticus. There seemed to be some promise that the ideas might be better received in Protestant Germany. Ironically, it was the Protestants who reacted first and most critically, and only later was the book censored by the Catholic Church.

But that did not stop the circulation of his ideas. This 1617 edition was published in Amsterdam and shows the comments of contemporary readers. Shortly after, in 1632, Galileo published his famous defense of the Copernican system.

To see the Copernicus, ask for Val 523.2 C79a.

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