Wilkins's legacy

24th September 2014


As Wadham celebrates 400 years since the birth of its influential warden, the experimental philosopher and scientist John Wilkins (1614-72), academics gathered for a one-day symposium discussing his legacy.

  • Wadham College Books; In the Age of John Wilkins (1614-1672) by William Poole

  • William Poole addresses symposium guests

    William Poole addresses symposium guests

  • Sysmposium guests view original books and manuscripts in an exhibition by Wadham library

Wadham's current Warden Ken Macdonald QC welcomed delegates to the symposium, which was organised by William Poole of New College, Oxford.

The symposium reassessed the legacy of experimental philosopher John Wilkins and this crucial phase of England’s scientific revolution in the mid-1650s.
Focusing not simply on Wilkins and Wadham, discussants examined what happened before and after Wilkins’s time at Wadham; what developments were taking place in Cambridge, where Wilkins moved briefly in 1659; how philosophical clubs came to arise not just in Wadham but elsewhere; how Oxford science developed in the Restoration after the departure of Wilkins; and how the innovative Oxford institution of the Ashmolean came into existence in 1683, where the new ‘Philosophical Society’ also held its meetings.
Aspects of Wilkins’s own writings were also addressed, including his contributions to natural and experimental philosophy.

The symposium was also accompanied by an exhibition of notable books from the college library donated by Wilkins himself and his contemporaries. These included the college's copies of first editions of Nicolaus Copernicus's De revolutionibus and William Harvey's De generatione animalium.
Organiser Will Poole comments: "Wilkins was a figure of huge importance and interest. He championed Copernicanism. He devised a universal language. He looked forward to the day when we would fly to the moon. But apart from these achievements, he was also a great fixer, a man who brought together other like-minded thinkers. He was one of Oxford's survivors, weathering and indeed harnessing the storm of civil war Oxford, devoting his considerable energies to the protection of the university and the fostering within his own college of a new kind of club -- a club for talking about and for doing experimental philosophy, the activity that would gradually turn into modern science. This makes not only Wilkins but Wadham College itself major features in the landscape of British intellectual and scientific history. This symposium was also accompanied by an exhibition assembled by Wadham College library of books given to the college by Wilkins and his contemporaries. I am delighted that Wadham has marked the anniversary of Wilkins's birth in this manner."
Speakers included:
Mordechai Feingold (Caltech) ‘John Wilkins and the Rise of English science’
Natalie Kaoukji (Cambridge) ‘Machines and Mathematical Magic’
Dmitri Levitin (Edinburgh) ‘The Oxford Experimental Club’
Scott Mandelbrote (Cambridge) 'John Wilkins and the Gardens of Wadham College'
William Poole (Oxford) ‘Wadham after Wilkins’
Anna-Marie Roos (Lincoln) ‘Chymistry at the Ashmolean’
Richard Serjeantson (Cambridge) ‘Wilkins’s Cambridge’

In the Age of John Wilkins (1614-1672)

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