The Logic of Oblivion

The Logic of Oblivion: Leibniz and Hartsinck in the Harz

Andre Wakefield

buchholtz.jpg

Bergarchiv Clausthal: Buchholtz 1681, Riss Nr. 3382

Leibniz worked incessantly between 1679 and 1686 to establish his wind machines in the mines of the Harz Mountains. This was the experience that informed his Protogaea (1691), or history of the earth. (The first English translation of the work, which I did together with Claudine Cohen, appeared in 2008.) Drawing on archival documents from Clausthal and Hannover my book tells the story of Leibniz's invention, his struggles to establish it, and the ultimate failure of the venture.

During the research phase of the project (while I was based at the MPIWG in Berlin, 2012-13), I reconstructed a detailed narrative of Leibniz’s efforts during the years 1679-1682. It was during this period that he (1) assumed control over the wind machine that he claimed to have invented, and (2) attempted to seize rights, patents and future earnings from that invention. He had a rival at that time, the Dutch-Japanese inventor Pieter Hartsinck. Until now, nobody has appreciated the role that Hartsinck’s original invention played in the story about Leibniz’s venture. The final version of my manuscript details the history of the years 1679-1686, when Leibniz became most involved in developing his machine. More than that, it also explores the subsequent history during which editors of the Leibniz Edition shaped the narrative, and largely erased Hartsinck from the picture. My book connects Leibniz’s failed entrepreneurship to larger questions about history, enlightenment and industrialization. I explore the notion of narrative repetition. Why do we keep repeating the same stories about the same figures, even when there is evidence that suggests we are wrong to do so?

Funding Institutions

Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (Humboldt Research Fellowship)