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Paper 2: Sciences in Transition: Renaissance to Enlightenment

Paper manager: Simon Schaffer

All lectures are held in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science.

Michaelmas Term
Early Modern Natural Knowledge
Lauren Kassell (4), Dániel Margócsy (5), Simon Schaffer (1)
Thu 2pm (weeks 1–5)
Wed 12noon (weeks 1–5)
Picturing Nature in the Renaissance
Sachiko Kusukawa (4)
Mon 2pm (weeks 1–4)
Lent Term
Natural Histories
Dániel Margócsy (6), Emma Spary (2)
Thu 11am (weeks 1–8)
Enlightenment Natural Philosophies
Simon Schaffer (6), Dániel Margócsy (2)
Wed 2pm (weeks 1–8)

This paper's scope includes the development in early modern Europe of occult and natural philosophies, mathematical sciences, natural history and museology, projects of exploration and technology. Lectures examine such themes in early modern European cultures as the social organisation, methods, cosmologies and materials of inquiry; concepts of natural order and economy in enterprises of collecting, writing, travelling and field study; and the practices of experimentation, classification and practice in natural philosophy and natural history.

Aims and learning outcomes

  • to acquaint students with fundamental questions in the historiography of early modern natural philosophies and natural history;
  • to acquaint students with the principal historical developments of practices of observation, experiment, quantification, classification and collection in the early modern period;
  • to introduce students to the role of material culture and instrumentation in the study of the history of the early modern knowledge;
  • to acquaint students with the main themes in the patronage, institutionalisation, organisation and dissemination of natural knowledge in the early modern period.


Early Modern Natural Knowledge
Lauren Kassell, Dániel Margócsy, Simon Schaffer (10 lectures, Michaelmas Term)

These lectures examine the fortunes of natural knowledge and its practitioners in early modern Europe by discussing shifts in institutions, modes of explanation, methods of observation and experiments, and identities of practitioners and disciplines, through several case studies. Lectures address themes in the history of occult philosophies and new models of literary and natural philosophical innovation. As natural knowledge became socially and geographically distributed and addressed new and different audiences, makers of knowledge developed new strategies of organization, control and persuasion.

Picturing Nature in the Renaissance
Sachiko Kusukawa (4 lectures, Michaelmas Term)

This set of four lectures discusses the various roles images played in the formation and dissemination of scientific in Europe in the early modern period. Traditionally, historians of science have looked to historical images expecting to find evidence of direct observation and increasing accuracy, but the work of images was more complex, varied and ingenious in shaping and supporting claims about the knowledge. Examples from in the fields of anatomy, cartography, astronomy and natural history, spanning the period from Leonardo da Vinci to Robert Hooke will be discussed.

Natural Histories
Dániel Margócsy, Emma Spary (8 lectures, Lent Term)

These lectures survey the practices of natural history in the 18th century. Topics covered include the collection and assembly of naturalia in cabinets, herbaria, gardens and menageries; the exploitation of natural objects in relation to medicine, agriculture, horticulture, commerce and empire; natural history in relation to natural theology; accounts of the generation of living beings; the description and ordering of natural objects.

Enlightenment Natural Philosophies
Dániel Margócsy, Simon Schaffer (8 lectures, Lent Term)

These lectures discuss themes in the development of natural philosophy and its aims in the long 18th century. Lectures treat in detail the instrumentation and material culture of the sciences, techniques of experimentation, travel and communication, methods and techniques of the sciences, forms of knowledge in print, the topics of globalization and industrialization, and the principal intellectual and programmatic trends in the new sciences of the European enlightenment.

Preliminary reading

  • Clark, William, Jan Golinski and Simon Schaffer (eds), The Sciences in Enlightened Europe (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999)
  • Daston, Lorraine, and Peter Galison, Objectivity (New York: Zone, 2007)
  • Dear, Peter, Revolutionizing the Sciences (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009)
  • Fara, Patricia, An Entertainment for Angels: Electricity in the Enlightenment (Cambridge: Icon, 2002)
  • Frasca-Spada, Marina, and Nick Jardine (eds), Books and the Sciences in History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000)
  • Hankins, Thomas, and Robert Silverman, Instruments and the Imagination (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995)
  • Hankins, Thomas, Science and the Enlightenment (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985)
  • Henry, John, The Scientific Revolution and the Origins of Modern Science (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2001)
  • Jardine, Nick, James Secord and Emma Spary (eds), Cultures of Natural History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995)
  • Moran, Bruce, Distilling Knowledge: Alchemy, Chemistry and the Scientific Revolution (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005)
  • Shapin, Steven, The Scientific Revolution (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996)
  • Webster, Charles, From Paracelsus to Newton: Magic and the Making of Modern Science (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982)

Resources for Paper 2 on Moodle