Francesco Algarotti explains Newton’s prism experiment to Ladies
In the 18th century, a “new science” flowed in Europe. One of the primary elements of Enlightenment was the rise of the public sphere excluding women and lower classes. Les Philosophes introduced the public to many scientific theories, in particular Newtonianism by Voltaire and Émilie du Châtelet. Some works are more formal, but the popular works were written in a discursive style. Articles on scientific topics appeared in popular women’s magazines and books designed to introduce women to scientific disciplines. Noted examples of this popular new genre include Francesco Algarotti’s Newtonianism for Ladies or Dialogues on light and colours. This book was an 18th century best seller and was one of the main channels through which Newtonian ideas reached the public in continental Europe. The text explained the principles of Newton's Opticks while avoiding much of the mathematical rigor of the work in favour of a more "agreeable" text. Algarotti presented Newton as a follower of the Galilean tradition and the first modern philosopher. The description of some of Newton’s experiments on the nature of light and colours in the form of a gentle dialogue has great educational value, because it does not demand any geometrical or algebraic knowledge.
In this article, the authors want to underline the importance of Algarotti's book for the dissemination of Newton's ideas that until then had been shared only by scholars.
Algarotti’s book today is testimony to women’s interest in science during 18th century.
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