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Revolutionising the Cosmos


  • Using Lindberg, explain Aristotle’s model of the cosmos and his concept of how knowledge was acquired. What role did first-hand experience play in the process of acquiring knowledge?
  • How did Columbus and Copernicus justify their discoveries (and what, exactly, is Columbus claiming to have discovered)? How often did Columbus, Copernicus and Acosta refer to first-hand, personal experience as a source of knowledge? How often did they refer to other authorities such as Aristotle?
  • Did the existence of the new world challenge or affirm the validity of authorities such as Aristotle?

  • Primary Sources
  • Acosta, José de, Natural and Moral History of the Indies (1590), trans. Frances López-Morillas, Duke University Press (Durham, 2002), books I-III.
  • Columbus, Christopher, Extract from Letter for the Catholic Kings, 18 Oct. 1498, available electronically at
  • Copernicus, Nicholas, On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres (1543), in Encompassing Nature: A Source Book: Nature and Culture from Ancient to Times to the Modern World, ed. Robert M. Torrance, trans. Thomas Kuhn, Counterpoint (Washington, 1999), pp. 852-856.

Required Secondary Reading

  • Lindberg, David C., The Beginnings of Western Science: The European Tradition in Philosophical, Religious, and Institutional Context, 600 B.C. to A.D. 1450, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, 1992), Chapter 3: Aristotle’s Philosophy of Nature, pp. 48-62.

Additional Secondary Readings

  • Bono, James J., The World of God and the Languages of Man: Interpreting Nature in Early Modern Science and Medicine, University of Wisconsin Press (Madison, 1995).
  • Campbell, Mary Baine, Wonder and Science: Imagining Worlds in Early Modern Europe, Cornell University Press (Ithaca, 1999).
  • Cañizares Esguerra, Jorge, ‘New World, New Stars: Patriotic Astrology and the Invention of Indian and Creole Bodies in Colonial Spanish America, 1600-1650’, American Historical Review, Vol. 104, No. 1 (Feb., 1999), pp. 33-68 .
  • Dear, Peter, Revolutionizing the Sciences: European Knowledge and Its Ambitions, 1500-1700 (Basinstoke: Palgrave, 2001), introduction, chapters 1, 2.
  • Earle, Rebecca, ‘‘If You Eat Their Food . . .’: Diets and Bodies in Early Colonial Spanish America’, American Historical Review, vol. 115:3 (2010), pp. 688-713.
  • Falcan, Andrea, Aristotle and the Science of Nature: Unity without uniformity, Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, 2005).
  • Kuppermann, Karen, ‘Fear of Hot Climates in the Anglo-American Experience’, William and Mary Quarterly 41 (1984), pp. 213-240.
  • Ravetz, J.R. ‘The Copernican Revolution’, Companion to the History of Modern Science, ed. by C. Olby et al. (London: Routledge, 1990), pp. 201-216.
  • Wear, Andrew, ‘Making Sense of Health and the Environment in Early Modern England’, Medicine in Society: Historical Essays, ed. Andrew Wear, Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, 1992), pp. 119-147.
  • Westman, Robert S., ‘The Copernicans and the Churches’, God and Nature: Historical Essays on the Encounter of the Copernican Theory, ed. David C. Lindberg and Ronald L. Numbers (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986), 76-113.