Richard S. Westfall papers, 1942-1996
Richard Samuel Westfall was born April 22, 1924, in Fort Collins, Colorado, the son of
Alfred van Rensselaer and Dorothy M. (Towne) Westfall. He graduated from Fort Collins
High School in 1942 and enrolled at Yale University. He left Yale in 1944 to serve in
the U.S. Navy for two years, then returned to complete his B.A. degree in 1948. He
remained at Yale for graduate study, receiving an M.A. degree in 1949 and a Ph.D. in
1955. His doctoral dissertation was published by Yale University Press in 1958 as
Science and Religion in Seventeenth Century England. There were subsequent editions in
1970 and 1972.
Westfall was known worldwide for his work on the history of the scientific revolution in
17th-century Europe, particularly the life of Isaac Newton. His major works include
Never at Rest (1980), regarded by historians as the definitive biography of Newton and
translated into Italian, French, and Japanese; Force in Newton's Physics: The Science of
Dynamics in the Seventeenth Century (1971), translated into Italian; and The
Construction of Modern Science: Mechanisms and Mechanics (1971), translated into
Japanese, Spanish, Italian, Turkish, and Greek.
Among Westfall's many professional honors were the Pfizer Award (1972 and 1983), an
annual prize for the best book in the history of science, given by the History of
Science Society, of which he was past president (1977-78); the Leo Gershoy Award of the
American Historical Association (1982); the George Sarton Medal of the History of
Science Society (1985); and election as a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and
Sciences and the Royal Society of Literature (both in 1982). He was awarded the Wilbur
Lucius Cross Medal of the Yale Graduate School Alumni Association (1988).
Westfall taught history at the California Institute of Technology (1952-53), the State
University of Iowa (1953-57), and Grinnell College (1957-63), before joining the faculty
of the Indiana University Department of History and Philosophy of Science in 1963 as
Professor of History of Science. He was given the additional title of Professor of
History in 1966, and became Distinguished Professor of History and Philosophy of Science
in 1976. He retired with the rank of Distinguished Professor Emeritus in 1989, and died
in 1996 at the age of 72.