Revisiting the Leiden Cabinet of Physics: machines and the mash of natural philosophy
The instruments of Willem Jacob ’s Gravesande (1688-1742) and Petrus van Musschenbroek (1692-1761), collected in Rijksmuseum Boerhaave, are generally considered as teaching devices meant to visualize the natural philosophical theories of Isaac Newton. Although various instruments were indeed used for such purposes, analyses of the intellectual contexts of other objects shows that many of the later additions were used to create new knowledge. Focusing on a group on machines used to investigate the forces of water, Van Besouw will show that ’s Gravesande and Van Musschenbroek were particularly interested in physically simulating practical water situations, thus bridging between theoretical discourse and engineering issues. To do so, they had to combine and reconfigure conceptual and experimental approaches from several disciplines. This talk will examine, first, how ’s Gravesande and Van Musschenbroek were creating a peculiar kind of knowledge and, second, how this knowledge stretched and sometimes breached the boundaries and conventions of contemporary natural philosophy.