Gouk, Penelope

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GOUK, Penelope

PERSONAL: Female. Education: St. Catherine's College, Oxford, B.A. (history); Warburg Institute, University of London, Ph.D. (history and music), c. 1982.

ADDRESSES: Offıce—Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, University of Manchester, Mathematics Tower, Manchester M13 9PL, England. E-mail—[email protected].

CAREER: University of Oxford, Oxford, England, researcher, 1983-94, director of the Achievement Project, 1990-95; University of Manchester, Manchester, England, became senior Wellcome research lecturer and course director of intercalated B.Sc. in history and medicine.

AWARDS, HONORS: British Academy postdoctoral research fellowship; several other research fellowships from Oxford University.


Music in the Natural Philosophy of the Early RoyalSociety, University of London (London, England), 1982.

(Editor) D. P. Walker, Music, Spirit, and Language in the Renaissance, Variorum Reprints (London, England), 1985.

The Ivory Sundials of Nuremberg, 1500-1700, Whipple Museum (Cambridge, England), 1988.

(Editor, with Charles Burnett and Michael Fend) TheSecond Sense: Hearing and Musical Judgement from Antiquity to the Seventeenth Century, Warburg Institute (London, England), 1991.

(Editor) Wellsprings of Achievement: Cultural andEconomic Dynamics in Early Modern England and Japan, Variorum (Brookfield, VT), 1995.

Music, Science, and Natural Magic in Seventeenth-Century England, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 1999.

(Editor) Musical Healing in Cultural Contexts, Ashgate (Brookfield, VT), 2000.

(Editor, with Helen Hills) Representing Emotions: NewConnections in the Histories of Art, Music, and Medicine, Ashgate (Brookfield, VT), 2004.

WORK IN PROGRESS: Currently researching beliefs held between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries on how music affected human health.

SIDELIGHTS: Penelope Gouk has spent many years researching a very specialized area of history: how people's concept of music affected other areas of study from the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries, including subjects such as science, art, mathematics, and medicine. Some of this research was first published in Gouk's 1982 Ph.D. dissertation, Music in the Natural Philosophy of the Early Royal Society. Since then, she has expanded upon this field with a number of edited essay collections and her book Music, Science, and Natural Magic in Seventeenth-Century England.

Focusing mainly on the first half of the seventeenth century (pre-Restoration), Gouk "shows that music in the seventeenth century was still primarily regarded as a mathematical science," related Charles Burnett in the Journal of the American Musicological Society. Intellectuals of the time thought of music as lying somewhere between science and philosophy, and it even had some occult applications. For example, some of the properties of musical instruments were believed to have an influence on natural forces that remained hidden from science. Although Burnett and other critics have noted that several other scholars have published books about the relationship between music and science, the critic asserted that "Gouk's work is . . . the first comprehensive account of the interrelationship of music, science, and natural magic."

Gouk divides her book into three sections to illustrate this interrelationship: "Geographies," "Gallery," and "Narratives." In the first section, the author attempts to map music's place within social, historical, political, and intellectual contexts. Here she shows, according to Canadian Journal of History contributors Elizabeth Colwill and Paul F. Rice, how "music became important for the development of the new experimental sciences which, being unstable, relied upon established disciplines to define their boundaries." The "Gallery" section concerns a history of the types of musical instruments available at the time and how, as Amanda Eubanks Winkler explained in her Notes review, "the rise of instrumental music demanded new theoretical schemes for notation and tuning, and these new systems departed from Pythagorean models of tuning, as temperament became the norm. . . . [This provided] experimental philosophers with new harmonic and acoustical problems to explore." The final section, "Narratives," is a more traditional history, providing profiles of the key figures Robert Hooke, Isaac Newton, and Francis Bacon, who all explored music in terms of natural philosophy. For instance, Newton's little-known work in this area—because it went largely unpublished—involved explorations into the "mathematical analysis of sound transmission and compared the color spectrum to a musical scale," noted Winkler.

But with the Restoration, music was removed from scientific and magical study to be relegated solely to the arts. Gouk explains that this happened for a couple of reasons, including the founding of the Royal Society, which made scientific experimentation a more acceptable pursuit while making any associations with the occult less acceptable; and political changes that came about with the English Civil War and Interregnum. Gouk laments this development, as it resulted in the increasing separation of various scientific and philosophical disciplines so that there no longer existed much interrelationship between these areas. This separation continues today, making scientific research often counterproductive and redundant because ideas are rarely shared between disciplines. When music, science, and natural philosophy were blended back in the early seventeenth century, she maintains, "English scholars at the cutting edge of scientific research saw the phenomena of music as a particularly fruitful area for exploring nature," wrote Burnett, "and were often practicing musicians themselves." The role of music therefore had a critical role in the blossoming of science in the seventeenth century.

While reviewers have noted some flaws in Music in the Natural Philosophy of the Early Royal Society, many critics have praised Gouk's originality of organization and research in this book. Winkler noted that the author's approach in arguing her points from three different angles in the three sections of her work "occasionally [causes] redundancy," but the critic further noted that "this method also reveals the complexity and the contradictions of the historical, social, and musical milieu that Gouk describes." Michael Hunter, writing in History Today, felt that Gouk does not completely resolve some issues, such as adequately explaining why the study of natural magic eventually declined, but he added that "these are minor shortcomings in a rich, fascinating exploration of a truly interdisciplinary topic." And Colwill and Rice commented that the book's subject will necessarily mean that the audience for Gouk's book will be limited. However, they said, "while far from being an easy read, the book does offer the careful reader many rewards. It also serves as a salutary reminder of the dangers of intellectual segregation, something which North American post-secondary education remains prone to encourage."

Although much of Gouk's research, editing, and writing has involved the historical study of music in one aspect or another, she has also explored other topics from her favorite time period. In The Ivory Sundials of Nuremberg, 1500-1700, for example, the author examines the artistry of sundials using her typically multidisciplinary approach. Here, she attempts to answer such questions as why sundials were made from ivory, how the diptych dials on them worked, why they were made in Nuremberg, and the types of people who purchased them. While Isis contributor Richard Kremer felt the book fell short in some areas, such as economics and the appeal of sundials as collectible items purchased by the upper classes and royalty, the critic also said that "Gouk nicely shows how decorative vocabulary from silverware, guns, and watches was transferred to the ivory sundials." In the end, Kremer concluded, Gouk's book is best regarded as "a history of artifacts and their makers, and not a social history of time, conflicting technologies, or applied mathematics."



Canadian Journal of History, April, 2001, Paul F. Rice and Elizabeth Colwill, review of Music, Science, and Natural Magic in Seventeenth-Century England, p. 133.

English Historical Review, February, 1999, M. Greengrass, review of Wellsprings of Achievement: Cultural and Economic Dynamics in Early Modern England and Japan, p. 226; June, 2001, John Henry, review of Music, Science, and Natural Magic in Seventeenth-Century England, p. 723.

History Today, November, 1999, Michael Hunter, review of Music, Science, and Natural Magic in Seventeenth-Century England, p. 52.

Isis, Volume 81, number 1, 1990, Richard Kremer, review of The Ivory Sundials of Nuremberg, 1500-1700, pp. 104-105.

Journal of the American Musicological Society, summer, 2002, Charles Burnett, review of Music, Science, and Natural Magic in Seventeenth-Century England, p. 365.

Notes, June, 1995, Jamie C. Kassler, review of TheSecond Sense: Studies in Hearing and Musical Judgement from Antiquity to the Seventeenth Century, p. 1297; September, 2000, Amanda Eubanks Winkler, review of Music, Science, and Natural Magic in Seventeenth-Century England, p. 125.

Times Literary Supplement, November 19, 1999, Ian Bostridge, review of Music, Science, and Natural Magic in Seventeenth-Century England, p. 13.*