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LETTERS
Was Copernicus really Polish?


Public-policy expert Howard Margolis is featured in the University of Chicago Magazine ("Investigations," February/02) for his book, It Started with Copernicus: How Turning the World Inside Out Led to the Scientific Revolution. The writer refers to "the Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus." If it is important enough to include the national and/or cultural provenance, then this aspect of "our debt to Copernicus" may need to be expressed more correctly. Looking at the historic context at the time, Copernicus was most likely more German than any other nationality. His father's family stemmed from the Neisse Bistum in Schlesien (Silesia), and the writing of Koppernigk (his German name) are in two languages only, German and Latin. Unquestionably, major stations in Copernicus's life and activities were associated with the German state of Prussia in Heilsberg, Frauenburg, Mehlsack, and Allenstein.

Many regions that now belong to Poland were for many centuries mixed settlements with changing political dominations. Under these uncertain historic circumstances, for any nation to claim Copernicus with any degree of certainty is difficult in retrospect. To claim or designate Copernicus as Polish is barely justified.

Walter E. Stumpf, PhD'67
Chapel Hill, North Carolina


 


  AUGUST 2002

  > > Volume 94, Number 6


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