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Questions for 2nd short essay and long essay

The questions below are for the second short essay (the first short essay for students arriving in Spring), the Spring essay plan, and the long essay. Click here for advice on the second short essay and essay plan.

You may also devise your own questions, but please run them by me before plunging in.

You are encouraged to think ahead to your long essay when you choose the question for the second essay or essay plan. Eg. if there is a question that you would love to answer in the long essay, don't choose this question (or a question very similar to it) for your short essay.

Note for visiting students arriving in Spring: you are welcome, and are indeed encouraged, to answer the same question for the short essay and the essay plan. That way your plan will serve as a platform or skeleton for your essay.


Was natural history OR anatomy (choose one) a humanist enterprise in the sixteenth century?

What impact did voyages of discovery have on natural history in the sixteenth century?

Was William Harvey’s Anatomical Exercises a revolutionary book?

Was natural magic a science?

Is the distinction between ‘scholars’ and ‘artisans’ a useful one for historians of early modern science?

Why were so many early moderns sceptical about the suitability of mathematics for studying nature?

What does the history of early modern optics tell us about the relationship between art and science?

What was a ‘mathematician’ in early modern Europe?

What is the Yates thesis? Is it defensible? Hint: it is a thesis about the relationship between astrology and astronomy in

early modern Europe. Note: you will need to be more specific than this!

In 1600 most astronomers believed that the sun goes around the earth. By 1700 most of them believed the opposite.

Why did they change their minds?

What was ‘metaphysics’ in the seventeenth century? Did it matter to natural philosophy? Discuss with reference to at least one of the following individuals: Galileo, Kepler, Descartes, Boyle.

Was Descartes an empiricist?

Was the Royal Society of London a ‘Baconian’ institution?

Did universities promote the new science or resist it?

Early modern science was expensive. Who paid for it?

What was emblematic natural history? When did it die out, and why?

What difference did the experimental philosophy make to the study of plants, animals or minerals (choose one).

Why were civil history and natural history so closely connected in seventeenth-century England?

What difference did instruments make to the experimental philosophy? Discuss with reference to an instrument of your choice, eg. microscopes, telescopes, air pumps…

What was a 'philosophical' instrument? How were they related to 'practical' or 'mathematical' instruments?

‘The experimental philosophy was about facts, not theories.’ Discuss.

‘The experimental philosophy was about things, not words.’ Discuss.

‘In the early modern period, there was nothing special about trying to turn base metals into gold—chrysopoeia was just another branch of chymistry.’ Is this right?

What did metallic transmutation have to do with natural philosophy? Discuss with reference to at least one of the following individuals: Paracelsus, van Helmont, Boyle, Newton.

Was Galileo’s trial for heresy inevitable?

Was the experimental philosophy a ‘Protestant’ philosophy?

Was Isaac Newton a Baconian?

‘The eighteenth century was the age of Newton in science.’ Discuss.

When did science become public?

Who was the audience for science in the eighteenth century?

Why was the experimental philosophy so popular in the eighteenth century?

Was there such a thing as global science in the eighteenth century?

What was the significance of the longitude problem in early modern science?

‘The second scientific revolution was all about the creation of new disciplines.’ Discuss with reference to chemistry, biology, geology, OR physics.