Dr Cornelis J. (Kees-Jan) Schilt

  • Early Modern Science
  • Early Modern Scholarship
  • Life and writings of Isaac Newton

A historian of early modern science and scholarship, I am interested in how we seek to understand the world around and in us, and how we have done so since the dawn of time. My research focusses on historic concepts of ontology and epistemology, most notably in early modern science, philosophy, theology and historiography. I am also intrigued by the questions that modern quantum mechanics poses, the two cultures of science and humanities, and the science-religion debates of the past and present.

My main research involves Isaac Newton’s non-scientific studies, in particular his research into ancient religions and civilizations and how these were connected with his own religious interests. Newton spent forty years of his life studying the chronology of ancient civilizations. The manuscript record that bears the fruits of these writings is in significant disarray, which has led to many misinformed conclusions about the nature of his research and his motivations for studying the topic in the first place. By devoting ample attention to Newton’s reading, note-taking, writing, and ordering practices, I have reconstructed the evolution of his chronological writings to show how these served but a single goal: the correct interpretation of the prophecies in Scripture.

To make sense of the millions of words he devoted to the topic, I used state-of-the-art digital methods to order the thousands of dispersed manuscript folios and connect them with the reading traces in the hundreds of books of his library still extant that are related to the topic. As such, my methodology connects existing methods of archival and manuscript research with newly developed tools for digital analysis, creating a synergy that surpasses both methods when used individually. It is a line of research I will continue to pursue in future projects for it has yielded spectacular results so far. These projects are inevitably guided by a curiosity into connections: between the sciences and the humanities, between science and religion, and between the analogue and the digital. In particular today, in a world where these topics are often perceived as intrinsically separated, I believe it is important to understand how and where in history this separation – or the perception thereof – appeared, and what lies at their root. More and more society encounters topics, such as in medical ethics, where only a combined science-humanities approach promises meaningful outcomes.

Currently, I am also involved with the Newton Mint Papers Project. Between 1696 and his death in 1727, Isaac Newton was first Warden, and then, from 1699 onward, Master of the Royal Mint in London. Apart from the day to day management of the Mint, Newton was instrumental in catching clippers and coiners and in the improvement of the metallurgical processes taking place in the creation of gold and silver coins. With his tenure coinciding with the emergence of the London and Amsterdam stock exchanges, the Bank of England, the recoinage of England and Scotland before and after the Union, and the South Sea Bubble, the Newton Mint Papers Project provides valuable insights in a pivotal episode in European financial and economical history.



(2019) Prophecy, History and Method: How and why Isaac Newton studied Chronology (working title). (Leiden: Brill, forthcoming)

(2016) “’To improve upon hints of things”: Illustrating Isaac Newton”, Nuncius, 31, 50-77.

(2016) “'Tired with this subject…' Isaac Newton on publishing and the ideal natural philosopher”, in Felicity Mellor and Stephen Webster (eds.), The Silences of Science (Abingdon: Routledge), 65-88.


I tutor for the Honour School of Natural Science Supplementary Subject History and Philosophy of Science,  part of the MSc and MPhil in History of Science, Medicine, and Technology; see https://weblearn.ox.ac.uk/portal/hierarchy/humdiv/history/masters/page/hmst.

I would be willing to hear from potential DPhil students, particularly in the fields of early modern science and scholarship and the nexus thereof, and all things Isaac Newton.

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