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  • The Many Ways to Talk about the Transits of Venus: Astronomical Discourses in Philosophical Transactions, 1753–1777

    Reetta Sippola

    Chapter from the book: Fridlund, M et al. 2020. Digital Histories: Emergent Approaches within the New Digital History.


    This chapter uses topic modelling to explore the evolution of the scientific discourse in the scientific journal Philosophical Transactions in the mid-18th century. Combining cultural historical close reading and statistical topic modelling, the study demonstrates the value of combining ‘new’ and more traditional historical research methods. The study shows that there were at least nine ways of talking about astronomical observations around the two transits of Venus, in 1761 and 1768, and in this reveal several previously neglected themes and unnoticed temporal discourse changes. One notable theme when talking about experiments was the continuity regarding concern for exactness and reliability of the collected knowledge, while others indicate a significant use of algebra to explain astronomical events and that the amount of causal theories has weakened over time. The study furthermore documents a connection between politeness and strategic attention seeking using the transits of Venus. Finally, the results reveal significant astronomical conversations related to terrestrial weather, and the circumstances and equipment of experimenting and observing.

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    How to cite this chapter
    Sippola, R. 2020. The Many Ways to Talk about the Transits of Venus: Astronomical Discourses in Philosophical Transactions, 1753–1777. In: Fridlund, M et al (eds.), Digital Histories. Helsinki: Helsinki University Press. DOI: https://doi.org/10.33134/HUP-5-14

    This is an Open Access chapter distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (unless stated otherwise), which permits unrestricted use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. Copyright is retained by the author(s).

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    Additional Information

    Published on Dec. 7, 2020


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