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The revolution in science

From the late seventeenth onwards, men like Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) were making huge advances in natural philosophy, which we now call science. An important aspect of their work was an emphasis on the use of experiment - some even used the term 'experimental philosophy' to describe their activities.

By the middle of the eighteenth century, their new discoveries were arousing great public interest. Itinerant lecturers capitalized on this by giving talks and demonstrations throughout the country which became extremely popular.

The way people collected and thought about the instruments used in natural philosophy also changed as a result of this increasing interest. Before the middle of the eighteenth century, instruments such as astrolabes were generally collected either because they were considered beautiful or were seen as historical evidence of other civilizations. The way in which Sir Hans Sloane collected instruments was typical of this attitude. But as interest in natural philosophy itself increased, collectors including King George III (reigned 1760-1820) began to acquire instruments that could be used to investigate or demonstrate the new knowledge. These collectors were primarily interested in how the instruments worked and in the knowledge they embodied.

Illustration: An astrolabe collected by Sir Hans Sloane

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