About this web

Why this web

When I began researching the life and accomplishments of Antony van Leeuwenhoek, I was struck by:

  • the small amount of readily available information in English
  • the amount of contradictory information, especially about his life

Why wasn't there more information about this fascinating, important man? What are the correct facts about his life and accomplishments? This web site tries to respond to both questions with:

  • correct information
  • attractive, accessible information

The question that drove the research:

What do you do when you see things no one has ever seen before?
Wat doe je als je dingen ziet dat niemand ooit heeft gezien?

Any questions? Suggestions?

My name is Douglas Anderson. I am a professor in the Division of Liberal Arts and Communications at Medaille College in Buffalo, New York, US. I teach all my courses online, so I can live in the Netherlands. In May 2019, I will retire from teaching, but I will never retire from this fascinating research project.

I am interested in your feedback. Please use the form on the contact page.


From January through August of 2016, I had the good fortune to be a gastonderzoeker, guest researcher, at the Huygens Instituut in Den Haag. This group of historians is moving aggressively into the digital humanities, as am I. I am grateful to Charles van den Heuvel, Eric Jorink, and especially Huib Zuidervaart. They have made me feel welcome and they are very patient with my developing Dutch speaking skills. I thank them.

Many other people continue to be of assistance while I research the life of Leeuwenhoek. The archivists and librarians in Delft and Den Haag are very helpful. The following people have given many hours to help me learn the language and the culture that let Leeuwenhoek flourish. In alphabetical order and with a hartelijke dank to all of them!

  • Auke Gerrits
  • Ben Neimeier
  • Constant Kool
  • Gerda van Dyke
  • Huib van Duin
  • Johan Geertzenwijk
  • Juan Scholten
  • Lesley Robertson
  • Madelon Smit-den Blanken
  • Paul Harris
  • Paul Hoeberigs
  • Rene Liefaard
  • Tiemen Cocquyt
  • Willem Reijnders

Technical support: Egor Elkins, Drupal guru (photo on right). Email Egor if you need help with your Drupal installation!

The bulk of the archival research for this web was made possible through a Spring 2008 and Spring 2016 sabbatical grants and a Spring 2009 leave from Medaille College. In addition, since 2008, I spent every summer in the Netherlands working on this project. Finally, in 2017, thanks to the efforts of Medaille's vice-president for academic affairs Dr. Lori Quigley, I began teaching all of my courses online. Now living in Leiden full-time, I have an hour's bike ride to Leeuwenhoek's home in Delft and a short walk to the Boerhaave Museum, which houses the most comprehensive Leeuwenhoek collection.

Presentations and publications​

Early on in my research, I gave a talk in the History of Medicine lecture series at the University of Amsterdam's Academisch Medisch Centrum at the invitation of its librarian, Lieuwe Kool. The positive reception gave me confidence that this buitenlander, foreigner, could tell today's Dutch people something interesting about their countryman Leeuwenhoek.

I posted a video Lens on Leeuwenhoek to YouTube in 2010.

My article "Still going strong: Leeuwenhoek at eighty" was published on March 30, 2014, in the British microbiology journal Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, volume 106, issue 1, pp 3-26.

In April 2014, I gave a presentation titled “Leeuwenhoek: The Myth, The Man” at the annual meeting of the Royal Dutch Society for Microbiology and the Dutch Association of Medical Microbiology.

On September 10, 2014, a video for which I did some of the voice-over was featured in the Opinion section of the New York Times online. As “Animated Life: Seeing the Invisible” (screenshot on right; click to enlarge), it is still available on the Times’ web. It was also carried in the Dutch press, the NRC Handelsblad: “Anthoni van Leeuwenhoek zag als eerste het onzichtbare.” In addition, the Times posted it to their Op-Docs YouTube channel, the producers posted it to their portfolio on Vimeo, and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the underwriters, posted it on their site. In total, it received over thirty thousand views by the end of that year.

At the June 2015 conference of Gewina, the Society for the History of Science in the Netherlands, I gave the presentation "The Leeuwenhoek Microscope: A dead-end design".

With Dr. Huib Zuidervaart, I wrote "Antony van Leeuwenhoek’s microscopes and other scientific instruments: new information, partially from the Delft Archives". It was published in Annals of Science in Spring 2016. The "new information" that I found in the Delft notary archives is the list of Leeuwenhoek's scientific instruments in the inventory of his daughter's estate, a find that Dr. Zuidervaart termed "stunning".

In September 2015, Dr. Zuidervaart presented the findings in our instruments paper at a conference in Italy where I was listed as copresenter even though I did not attend. In November, he presented our findings again at an awards ceremony in Haarlem.

• "Antony van Leeuwenhoek’s microscopes and other scientific instruments". Scientific Instrument Symposium, Turin, Italy, 7 - 11 September 2015.

• "Anthoni van Leeuwenhoek: Bouwstenen voor een nieuwe biografie?" (trans: Building blocks for a new biography?). Boerhaave book prize for scientific biographies awarded by Museum Boerhaave and the Royal Netherlands Society of Science, Haarlem, Netherlands, 28 October 2015.

Copies of slide sets and articles are available on request.

In June 2016, Dr. Zuidervaart and I were appointed editors of Alle de Brieven / Collected Letters. We succeeded Lodewijk Palm, who retired with volume 17 almost ready for press. With the help of intern Lizzy Entjes, we completed that task in Spring 2017. During proofreading, we discovered four more letters from Leibniz to Leeuwenhoek within that time period. The publication date for volume 17 is again delayed while we get Leibniz's letters translated and annotated. Meanwhile, we have begun working on volumes 18 and 19.


Lens on Leeuwenhoek is © 2009-2017 by Douglas Anderson under a Creative Commons License.

Creative Commons LicenseThis license says that if you use material you find here that isn't under copyright elsewhere:

  • give me credit
  • don't charge money for it without talking to me first
  • share with others as I am sharing with you

A note on copyright

Copyrighting something like Lens on Leeuwenhoek, which is essentially a bit stream, is not as obvious as it may appear. Read Eben Moglen's Anarchism Triumphant: Free Software and the Death of Copyright in the August 1999 issue of First Monday. For more background, try Moglen's 2007 Framing the Debate: Free Expression versus Intellectual Property, the Next Fifty Years and some of the articles at the Free Software Foundation.

Lens on Leeuwenhoek is not sponsored by or affiliated with any owners of the specific trademarks used here, including those in hyperlinks. I have made a good faith effort to comply with the "fair use" clause of U.S. copyright law. Any copyrighted material on Lens on Leeuwenhoek is credited, usually linked, and used in limited amounts for not-for-profit educational purposes.

If you hold the copyright or trademark to any material on Lens on Leeuwenhoek and feel as though my use does not conform to the fair use provisions, notify me via the contact page and I will remove the material immediately until we resolve the issue.


To make this web, I used the Drupal 7 framework to tailor a CMS (content management system) for my purposes. For image editing, Pixlr.com. For the videos, Apple's Final Cut Pro. To learn more about traffic to the web, I use Google Analytics.

The database with the page code, scripts, style sheets, videos, and image files sit on a server owned by A2 Hosting, headquartered in Ann Arbor, Michigan, US. Their LAMP stack (mid-2015):

Linux Apache 2.2.29 MySQL 5.5.34 PHP 5.3.29