Local and international networks: Two cases from the city of Middelburg

Klaas van Berkel (University of Groningen)

No man lives without a network, but it is the interconnection of networks that generates innovation.  In the early modern period, without many of the communication channels that we are used to, local networks were more important than they are today. Therefore, in order to understand innovation in the early stages of the so-called scientific revolution of the seventeenth century, we should study local networks and the way they are connected to regional and international networks more intensively than we used to. In my presentation I will illustrate this by discussing two examples of innovation that originated in the city of Middelburg in the Netherlands. First of all, I will discuss the so-called ‘invention’ of the telescope in 1608, a local invention that rapidly spread across Europe and revolutionized astronomy. Secondly, I will analyse the complicated story of the introduction in the science of mechanics of the concept of inertia, which formed one of the building blocks of the mechanical philosophy of the seventeenth century. In both cases, the Dutch natural philosopher Isaac Beeckman (1588-1637), who was born and raised in the city of Middelburg, will be my main witness. He kept a scientific and personal notebook from 1604 to 1634 (his Journal) that offers us a priviliged glimpse into the interconnected networks in which early modern science and philosophy came to fruition.