The Newton Project is an effort to release online the complete record of Isaac Newton’s published and unpublished writings. Certainly, Newton was one of the most important figures in the history of modern science, and the Project offers a substantial contribution to this field by offering historians unprecedented access to his archives. Although the work is far from finished, the text offered on the site thus far is both a key resource for historians and a model for the online publication of historic manuscripts.
The greatest success of the Newton Project is its multi-layered presentation of the historical manuscripts. The Project fully utilizes the hypertext medium to balance the historical integrity of the subject with acts of editorial clarification. Each transcription can be displayed in several formats. The first, “normalised,” format is edited and omits deleted text, expands unfamiliar abbreviations, corrects spelling, and offers something like a final draft, which represents what Newton most likely intended a reader to see in his text. With this option, the editors allow a viewer to quickly access Newton’s writing without struggling to decipher the meanings of difficult marks and indications. The next format, termed “diplomatic,” attempts to preserve the process of the text’s original production by graphically indicating text that has been marked through, squeezed between the lines, or includes special characters. When a viewer rolls the mouse over these notations, a pop-up textbox gives an editorial note describing the nature of each irregularity. In addition to these two formats, photographic images of some manuscripts are available for closer reading and verification. A viewer can easily switch between these three formats to find the level of authenticity or editorial influence with which he or she is comfortable.
The site is well designed, attractive, and professional. The main text appears under the title banner in the middle and right side of the screen, while a list of navigation links on the left leads to a description of the project’s background, biographical information, and sections that highlight new, featured, and upcoming additions to the site. Individual pages are also cross-linked to make navigating the site simple. The site also includes an extensive bibliography, a guide to the source collections, and dozens of links to other Newton sites as well as many other history-of-science and manuscript publishing sites.
A final important consideration of online history is the concept of permanence. This idea is especially pertinent to the Newton Project because they only recently extended their funding for another five years. But, to the Project’s credit, the creators have already arranged for the online transcriptions to be deposited with the Oxford Text Archive to guarantee sustainability in the unlikely event that additional funding is unavailable in the future. Once again, the Newton Project has successfully addressed a major challenge of online history.
Center for History and New Media
February 5, 2005