Lewis Ashman

Thesis title: The reception of Isaac Newton in the Scottish Enlightenment


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

I am interested in early modern European history, particularly British and Irish intellectual history from the late seventeenth to the early nineteenth centuries.

My PhD project is looking at the reception of Isaac Newton in Scotland. I am developing a new account of Newton's influence in which Newton is primarily seen by his admirers as a model for the reform of philosophy. I see 'Newtonianism', which is often taken to be a characteristic element of Scottish Enlightenment philosophy, as a contested concept developed first in order to advocate for reform and later to understand a profound development in learning that was either under way or had taken place in the past. Thus, 'Newtonianism' and 'Newtonian philosophy' – words very rarely used by the actors themselves – are not stable categories but concepts Scottish authors debated and through which they attempted to define important changes taking place in natural philosophy and beyond.

I am interested in the relationship between different areas of inquiry in the early modern period, and particularly in the role of natural philosophy (or 'science') and mathematics in learning more generally. In addition to reception studies, my work has so far involved thinking about institutions as contexts for intellectual change, discipleship and philosophical isms, the relationship between belief or ideology and scholarship, and the function of histories of learning in intellectual debates.


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'