Johann Christoph Gatterer was a data gatherer. As a professor of history in Göttingen, from 1759 until his death forty years later, he compiled collections of medieval manuscripts, coins, heraldic tables, maps, and even weather reports. He did not only collect them: he also transformed his hoard into manuals for studying heraldry and medieval charters, drew up elaborate multicoloured charts and diagrams, and made highly acclaimed historical maps. He claimed that he arranged his data as strictly as Linnaeus had ordered the world of plants and animals. On top of that, he wrote some seven outlines of Universal History, that is, chronologies from Creation to the present. Although he had a rival in his colleague Schlözer, who collected more politically relevant contemporary data, and although he never wrote a compendium as large as the Benedictine Nouveau Traité de Diplomatique, he was arguably the biggest historical data collector of his time.
While still working maniacally on my thesis about the reception of Ernst Cassirer’s work on the history of physics, I let the U3 once again drive me to the green and wealthy Dahlem. This time it was for an interview with Jürgen Renn, Director at the Max-Planck-Institut für Wissenschaftsgeschichte (MPIWG). It would be our third encounter—the first being a firm handshake and warm welcome upon my arrival and the second being a short talk I had given in his presence in the fall. After discussing my thesis in his large office, Jürgen Renn allowed me to ask him some questions on his career, the relation between science and the history of science (Part I), open access and its methodological benefits (Part II). While listening closely, I marvelled at my surroundings: a stage set with well-fed plants, a huge table, chairs, bookshelves and, most prominently, books, many books.
In 1611 an unknown novice recited a poem titled “Sonnet on the Death of the King Henry the Great, and on the Discovery of Some New Planets, or Stars Wandering Around Jupiter, Made this Year by Galileo Galilei, Famous Mathematician of the Grand Duke of Florence”. The occasion was the three-day commemoration of the death of King Henry IV, and the location the Jesuit ‘Collège Royal Henri IV’ in La Flèche, France. To us present-day readers, it may seem as a long shot to present the dead King Henry as having been elevated to the ‘Heaven of Jupiter’, where ‘he now shines / To serve to mortals as a heavenly torch.’ But to the writer of this poem the connection seems to have been not only fair, but even obvious. In other words, the sonnet thus shows how only one year after Galileo’s publication of the Sidereus Nuncius, or Starry Messenger (Florence, March 1610), his discoveries had already become famous enough to place them on a par with that most important other big event of 1610, the death of the French King.