Pitzer Professor Andre Wakefield Presents New Findings about Leibniz’s Legacy

Professor of History Andre Wakefield in 2009.
Pitzer College Professor of History Andre Wakefield

Claremont, Calif. (November 10, 2016)—Pitzer College Professor of History Andre Wakefield will discuss new archival evidence about the work of German philosopher and mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz next week at the Max Planck Institute for Mathematics in Leipzig, Germany from November 14-16, 2016. Wakefield is a featured speaker at the “Leibniz and the Sciences” conference, which explores the life and influence of the seventeenth-century polymath, whose thinking touched on nearly every aspect of the sciences, from biology to technology.

Wakefield’s talk, “Machines and Machinations: Leibniz in the Harz,” explores a period between 1678 and 1686, when Leibniz worked on developing a wind machine in the mines of the Harz Mountains in northern Germany. The story of Leibniz’s attempts, and ultimate failure, to create the machine is familiar to historians. Less well known is the bitter dispute he had with Pieter Hartsinck, a Dutch-Japanese mathematician and inventor, during that same period. In this talk, Wakefield will present new archival information about the nature of that dispute, which sheds light on Leibniz’s activities as an inventor. He will also discuss the tortured historiography around this episode and consider its meaning for Leibniz scholarship.

“The focus of my study is narrow, but the implications are large,” said Wakefield, who is working on a book about this period in Leibniz’s life. “Since his dispute with Isaac Newton over the invention of the calculus, scholars have debated Leibniz’s legacy. My talk is not simply about one small dispute over windmills; it is about how historians and editors have made and remade Leibniz as the quintessential German universal genius.”

Wakefield’s research on Leibniz spans decades. Wakefield and historian Claudine Cohen edited and translated Protogaea, Leibniz’s treatise on the formation of the earth, which shaped the development of the earth sciences in the eighteenth century. Published in 2008, Wakefield and Cohen’s edition was the first English translation of the text, originally written in Latin in the 1690s. Wakefield’s article “Leibniz and the Wind Machines,” published in Osiris, the annual journal of the History of Science Society, examined the narratives around Leibniz’s attempts to invent the wind machine.

Wakefield is an expert on the history of science, German history, environmental history and sports history. His courses at Pitzer College include History of the Human Sciences, Anxiety in the Age of Reason, and Prison Autobiography.

“Leibniz and the Sciences,” which commemorates the 300th anniversary of the philosopher’s death, will be held in Leipzig, the city of Leibniz’s birth. Co-organized by the Max Planck Institute for Mathematics in Leipzig, the conference brings together mathematicians, physicists, historians and philosophers from all over the world to explore the work of one of history’s most influential thinkers.

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