Lewis Ashman

Thesis title: The reception of Isaac Newton in Enlightenment Scotland


I grew up in Glasgow and began university life as a student on the Physics with Astrophysics course at the University of Glasgow before switching focus from natural science to humanities and the social sciences, eventually graduating with a joint degree in Economic and Social History and Politics in 2012. From there I found my way on to the Intellectual History MSc programme at the University of Edinburgh, where I wrote a dissertation on Thomas Reid's Newtonianism – in some way bringing my disparate academic interests together. In 2019, after some years away from academia via London and Copenhagen, I began my PhD on Newton's reception in Enlightenment Scotland.



  • (MSc) Intellectual History, University of Edinburgh, 2012–13 (Distinction)
  • (MA Hons) Economic and Social History and Politics, University of Glasgow, 2008–12 (1st)


Undergraduate teaching

2019/2020: Tutor, 'The History of Edinburgh: From Din Eidyn to Festival City'

2020/2021: Tutor, 'Introduction to Historiography'

Research summary

My PhD project is looking at the reception of Isaac Newton in Enlightenment Scotland.

Newton's influence on the Scottish Enlightenment is typically thought to be widespread and multi-faceted, and it has been argued that a particular Scottish Newtonianism emerged in the period. My approach is to question what 'Newtonian' might have meant to Scottish thinkers of the period and to focus on sources that engage most explicitly with Newton and his works. I hope to show how Newton's reception, and therefore any Scottish Newtonianism that may have emerged, was subject to change over time, that Scottish thinkers often disagreed both about Newton's significance and about what he actually wrote, and that Newton's ideas had their Scottish critics as well as their supporters.

In this way I aim to situate Newton's Scottish reception in the context of a number of interrelated debates from the late seventeenth century (when Newton entered the scientific scene)  to the early nineteenth century (the traditional endpoint of the Scottish Enlightenment) which cut across several modern disciplinary formations, such as 'science', 'philosophy' and 'theology'.


Conference details

European Society for the History of Science conference (31st Aug-3rd Sep 2020, online)

Co-organiser of symposium, 'Views from the periphery: visual, material and sensory cultures of science in early modern Scotland'

Paper: 'A sign of the times: Newton's calculus and the limits of geometry in eighteenth century Scotland'


British Society for the History of Mathematics conference (12th-15th Jul 2021, online)

Contributer to symposium, 'The practices of mathematical antiquaries in early modern Britain'

Paper: 'Colin Maclaurin and the "unexceptionable principles" of Archimedes'


European Society for the History of Science Early Career Scholars conference (20th-22nd Sep 2021, online)

Paper: 'The genius of modesty: anti-Cartesianism and the making of Newton in Enlightenment Scotland'