Instrumental Practices at the Astronomical Observatory of the Amsterdam Society 'Felix Meritis', 1786-1889.
Felix Meritis, the remarkable 'Temple of Enlightenment', adorns the Amsterdam canals since 1788. The building accommodated the most ambitious attempt in the Netherlands for the integration of activities regarding literature, music, the visual arts, commerce, and the sciences. What so far went unnoticed is that, from the very start, Felix Meritis was also equipped with an astronomical and meteorological observatory. In fact, it was the first scientific observatory in the Netherlands designed from the drawing board. This book describes the history of the observatory (which functioned until 1889), with a special focus on the tensions between the objectives formulated by its founding fathers and the ultimate difficult practice of scientific research. The Felix Meritis-Observatory was crucial for the training and early careers of various eighteenth- and nineteenth-century astronomers, among whom were Nieuwland, Van Beeck Calkoen, Moll, Keijser, Uylenbroek, and Kaiser (the father of modern Dutch astronomy).
'The authors have documented their story in detail, and Between Rhetoric and Reality presents many fine illustrations of the researchers, instruments, and facilities of Felix Meritis. They convinctingly show how the rise of the natural sciences in the nineteenth century was paralleled by a decline in the interest of the social elite in participating in these developments. The parallel with Teyler's Museum emphasizes that we need to know more about the background of this changeover in cultural preferences in Dutch polite society.' Bert Theunissen in: ISIS 105 (2014) 3, p. 668-670; 'In the introduction, the authors present their book as a study of astronomical practice in one specific location, for which they use the notion of a "workshop of knowledge". That is exactly what they deliver in this well-written and thoroughly researched study. [...] The Felix Meritis observatory could have been great. But it wasn't. That is the difference between rhetoric and reality. Zuidervaart's and van Gent's book is recommended reading for anyone interested in the human drama of astronomy.' David Baneke in: Journal for the History of Astronomy XLIV (2013), p. 489-490.