Aronson (2019 M-MLA)

Morgan Aronson
(US Naval Observatory Library)
“A Text Twice Born:  Exploring the Origin of a Scientific Manuscript”

Abstract of Paper Presented at the 2019 Convention of the Midwest Modern Language Association (Chicago, 2019)
Convention Theme:  “Duality, Doubles, and Doppelgängers”

Panel on “Duality and Manuscript Evidence”
Sponsored by the Research Group on Manuscript Evidence
Organized By Justin Hastings (Loyola University Chicago)

2019 M-MLA Panel

[Published on our website on 22 October 2019]

A Text Twice Born: Exploring the Origin of a Scientific Manuscript


A mysterious Doppelgänger is held in the manuscript section of the Smithsonian Libraries’ Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology.  The highly illustrated, fundamental scientific treatise on hydrodynamics by the physicist Abbé Edme Mariotte (1620–1684) was posthumously published for the first time in 1686 in French as the Traité du mouvement des eaux et des autres corps fluides, divisé en V parties, par feu M. Mariotte, mis en lumière par les soins de M. de La Hire.  A second edition was published in 1700.  It wasn’t until 1718 that the first English edition appeared, as The Motion of Water and Other Fluids:  Being a Treatise of Hydrostaticks, translated by John Theophilus Desaguliers.

How then, is it possible, that there exists, hidden in the Dibner Library, an English manuscript of the book, illustrations included, dated to 1690?

If this date is correct, it would precede the first known English translation by almost thirty years!  These two English texts, one printed, the other manuscript, have no evident relationship.  Unfortunately, the only evidence of a 1690 creation-date comes from a box spine-label that has since been discarded.  By what means, then, do we learn how, and exactly when, this unknown English translation came to be?

Through investigations into the textual, paleographical, codicological, bibliographical, and historiographical evidence, I attempt the complex task of verifying the 1690 date.  The paper will discuss my methodology for using the universal language of physics to compare the several French and English editions of the manuscript.  Also included in this talk will be details of how my investigation proceeded, what conclusions I can now draw as to the origin of the manuscript, and why the copying of scientific texts was still widespread centuries after the advent of printing.

This investigation is focused on the material evidence of this here-to-fore unknown English translation of Mariotte’s important treatise on hydrodynamics and of its printed “doubles”.  I believe the duality theme of this conference is exceptionally well-suited for this topic.


Morgan Aronson is currently the Project Manager for the United States Naval Observatory Library.  She is responsible for managing their 90,000 volume library, including a substantial collection of rare books in the history of science and 19th-century manuscript observation journals.  Before joining the US Naval Observatory Library, Morgan worked for the Smithsonian Libraries Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology in Washington, DC, after serving as Head Librarian for the Robert R Livingston Masonic Library in New York City.  She holds two masters degrees, one in the History of the Book from the University of St Andrews, and the other from the Palmer School of Library and Information Science.  She currently serves as Vice President of the Washington Rare Book Group.