Protogaea (Hardcover)

By Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Claudine Cohen (Translated by), Andre Wakefield (Translated by)

University of Chicago Press, 9780226112961, 216pp.

Publication Date: May 15, 2008

Other Editions of This Title:
Paperback (11/15/2010)

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Protogaea, an ambitious account of terrestrial history, was central to the development of the earth sciences in the eighteenth century and provides key philosophical insights into the unity of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz’s thought and writings. In the book, Leibniz offers observations about the formation of the earth, the actions of fire and water, the genesis of rocks and minerals, the origins of salts and springs, the formation of fossils, and their identification as the remains of living organisms. Protogaea also includes a series of engraved plates depicting the remains of animals—in particular the famous reconstruction of a “fossil unicorn”—together with a cross section of the cave in which some fossil objects were discovered.
Though the works of Leibniz have been widely translated, Protogaea has languished in its original Latin for centuries. Now Claudine Cohen and Andre Wakefield offer the first English translation of this central text in natural philosophy and natural history. Written between 1691 and 1693, and first published after Leibniz’s death in 1749, Protogaea reemerges in this bilingual edition with an introduction that carefully situates the work within its historical context.

About the Author

Claudine Cohen is professor of the history of science at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris, a former member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ, and the author of The Fate of the Mammoth: Fossils, Myth, and History, also published by the University of Chicago Press. Andre Wakefield is assistant professor of history at Pitzer College in Claremont, California.

Praise For Protogaea

“It is wonderful to have, at last, an English translation of Leibniz’s Protogaea, presented with a valuable introduction by Claudine Cohen and Andre Wakefield. Protogaea is a document of great significance for our understanding of earth science in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Through this carefully prepared and handsomely presented edition, students and scholars now have a fresh opportunity to examine Leibniz’s thinking about the earth, its history, and its natural operations. Cohen and Wakefield rightly emphasize the multiple contexts in which this work should be considered. These include Leibniz’s concern with both universal philosophical questions and detailed local description, his involvement in the latest mining and power technology know-how, and his responsibilities as a courtly historian.”

— Kenneth L. Taylor, University of Oklahoma

“The Protogaea reveals to us a very different Leibniz than we usually confront, and in this learned and readable edition, Claudine Cohen and André Wakefield reveal to us the Protogaea. This work shows us a hitherto unappreciated aspect of Leibniz's insatiable curiosity about the world. It is, furthermore, a window into one of the earliest and most influential attempts to come to grips with the deep history of the earth in a rigorous way.”

— Daniel Garber, Princeton University

“The first English translation, with parallel Latin text, of Leibniz’s often cited but rather rarely read Protogaea, with an excellent scholarly introduction. The work reveals the author’s extensive knowledge of ‘mundane’ matters and expounds his interesting speculations about the earth’s origin and history. With its reproductions of the original illustrations, this will be the standard edition, invaluable to both Leibniz specialists and historians of geoscience.”

— David Oldroyd, Honorary Visiting Professor, University of New South Wales

“The Protogaea is a wonderful exemplar of post-Cartesian science, attempting to explain such phenomena as the Flood and fossils in physical terms, subject to the laws of nature, occurring in a historical time frame that stretches well beyond the account of Genesis. We are indebted to Cohen and Wakefield for producing a superior version of it, with an introduction and annotations setting the historical context, a new Latin edition, and the very first English translation.”

— Roger Ariew, University of South Florida

"Historically, this is a very influential book that has finally been brought out of obscurity for readers of English. Essential."

— Choice

"Protogaea not only offers scholars of a wide range of topics a welcome tool for further research, but also, through its introduction, provides an extremely worthwhile contribution to contemporary discussions of late seventeenth-century thought in its own right. By recovering this important testament . . . Cohen and Wakefield draw our attention to the multifaceted interests of virtuosi at the time and to the many ways in which natural philosophy intersected with natural history. . . . Protogaea gives us a much fuller picture of science and culture in the territories of the Holy Roman Empire at a crucial time in its history. Cohen and Wakefield are to be commended for their hard work in making it possible for the Protogaea to reach the audience it deserves.—Alix Cooper, H-Net Review

— Alix Cooper

"Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz is often remembered as the brilliant mathematician and rationalist who possibly invented calculus before Isaac Newton and who was suspicious of John Locke’s empiricist epistemology. But, as Claudine Cohen and Andre Wakefield’s new translation of Leibniz’s Protogaea elegantly reveals, he had many other tantalizing interests....The image of Leibniz that emerges in Protogaea is a bit different from that of the reified rationalist sometimes presented in philosophy courses, or even the number-crunching mathematician whom historians of science have made out to be Newton’s intellectual nemesis. These pages speak to Leibniz’s role as a traveler, chemist, linguist, and antiquarian and, above all, as an inquisitive naturalist seasoned by detailed observations made in situ or sometimes excavated from obscure chorographies and chronicles....Cohen and Wakefield deserve to be commended for providing a readable translation of Protogaea that is skillfully contextualized by an informative introduction and strategic footnotes and beneficially augmented by contemporary images and cogent appendixes. In a time when university presses often shy away from supporting the translation of primary texts that are not immediately recognizable to the intelligent reader, the University of Chicago Press deserves to be heartily congratulated for supporting this project and for producing such an attractive book. Its presence on library shelves will provide a more nuanced picture of Leibniz’s multifaceted mind and a deeper understanding of the cognitive framework used by early modern naturalists to understand the terraqueous globe."

— M. E. Eddy