A Brill Calendar: February 28
Few past realities are as difficult to reconstruct in faithful detail as an individual's status & prestige: especially when related to specific professions.
The fact that titles and functions remain identical in dictionaries and registers shouldn’t result in an assumption of the absence of change. The difficulty may be exemplified by the person and position of Willem Jacob ‘s-Gravesande, (‘s-Hertogenbosch, Brabant, September 26, 1668 – Leyden, February 28, 1742) a physicist and Leyden Professor from 1717 until his death.
His name remained a household term in physics classes of Dutch grammar-schools: an elementary experiment (and a rather spectacular proof) for the thermal expansion of materials he invented, still carries his name. ‘s-Gravesande published the first text-book in Holland of experimental physics, ‘Physices elementa mathematica’ (1719); two years after he was appointed to his Leyden Chair during the dawn of the European Enlightenment.
‘Physics’ in Leyden University some hundred years earlier, when Galileo and Descartes were developing ground-breaking insights and methods, bears little resemblance to what that term entailed – both in theory and practice – when Willem ‘s-Gravesande co-operated closely with Jan Musschenbroek, a member of an illustrious Leyden family by then famous makers of precision instruments. And it is seldom seen in later generations, that a Professor in his abstruse discipline could contribute as significantly as ‘s-Gravesande did to a periodical for generalists as the ‘Journal de la république des lettres’, published since 1722.