This project is to carry out research for what will be the first scientific biography of Dr. Martin Lister (1638-1712), vice-president of the Royal Society, Royal Physician, and the first conchologist and arachnologist. It will address the extent to which Lister's study of natural history is a conceptual bridge between the work of Renaissance naturalists and those of the Enlightenment, such as Linnaeus and Buffon. Like Darwin two hundred years later, Lister corresponded most of his adult life (over 1000 surviving letters) with explorers and scientists who provided him specimens, observations, and locality records from all over the world. The impact of his work extended into Jamaica, America, Barbados, France, Italy, the Netherlands, China, and his native England, his research truly cross-cultural.
This biographical study and intellectual history will also provide an unprecedented picture of what it meant to be a virtuoso in the seventeenth-century republic of letters. Rich archival resources show that Lister was an innovator in archaeology, medicine and chemistry, Robert Boyle considering him an investigator of ?piercing sagacity.? Though Lister is known to have discovered ballooning spiders and his work on molluscs was standard for 200 years, he also invented the histogram, provided Sir Isaac Newton with chemical procedures and alloys for his telescopic mirrors, did archaeological studies demonstrating York?s walls were Roman, received the first reports of Chinese smallpox vaccination, and donated the first significant natural history collections to the Ashmolean Museum. His letters reveal he was involved in the day-to-day administration of the early Royal Society in its formative years, revealing some of the unknown internal workings of the world?s first scientific society.
There is a fascinating subtext to this story: Lister's teenage daughters, Anna and Susannah, engraved over 1000 plates of shells for his masterwork on molluscs, engraved Antonie van Leeuwenhoek?s microscopic illustrations for the Royal Society, and used microscopes themselves. The importance of women in the ?scientific revolution? has never been clearer. Just as Lister was the first to make a systematic study of spiders and their webs, this biography will be first to analyze the significant webs of knowledge, patronage, and familial and gender relationships that governed his life as a scientist, presenting a humanistic view of early science studies with broad appeal.