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Knowledge, Nature and Power in Early Modern Europe (HI395)


Tutor: Dr Claudia Stein

This undergraduate final-year Advanced Option module offers a cultural history of the European investigation into nature during a period that is usually known as the ‘Scientific Revolution’. It will introduce students to the grand narratives and their ‘heroes’ as in older histories of science and medicine, but will also encourage students to critically rethink the old categories. The shifting frameworks of ideas are not therefore the main focus of this module. Instead it aims at contextualising various European scientific endeavours between 1500-1700, and discussing them within the wider landscape of early modern European culture (i.e. discoveries and conquest, court culture and patronage, or trade, commerce and consumption). Of particular concern will be the history of the life sciences, frequently ignored in general histories of science and medicine.

The chronology of the module will allow us to focus on two particular manifestations of the early modern investigation of nature: first, the restoration and renewal of the accomplishments of the ancients during the 16th century influenced by humanist thought, and second, the 17th century forging ahead with professedly novel and ambitious programmes of scientific endeavour, exemplified by natural philosophers such as Bacon or Descartes. The history of medicine and science will be a particular focus, but we will also cover social history, economic history, literary studies, art history, and anthropology.