News at IU Bloomington: Newton Watermark Project Could Help Date Books More Accurately

Institute’s rare book curator is part of Indiana University-led research team using Isaac Newton’s alchemical manuscripts as a test case.

February 22, 2021

A team of American researchers is working with international partners on a project that could help scholars more accurately date manuscripts and early books. James R. Voelkel, curator of rare books and manuscripts in the Institute’s Othmer Library of Chemical History, serves as a co-director of “Digital Approaches to the Capture and Analysis of Watermarks Using the Manuscripts of Isaac Newton as a Test Case.” The Science History Institute is contributing five of Newton’s alchemical manuscripts to the project.

Led by Indiana University professor and Chymistry of Isaac Newton editor William R. Newman, the research project was recently awarded a New Directions for Digital Scholarship in Cultural Institutions grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the United Kingdom’s Arts and Humanities Research Council.

“Watermarks are very difficult to image, and modern technology will help make the process much more efficient,” Voelkel said, noting that the breadth of what the team is trying to accomplish remarkable. “In terms of dating things more accurately, this has a lot of potential.”

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