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Week 3. Scholars and artisans, 1500-1700. Experiment.

Early modern Europe saw an unprecedented convergence of mental and manual labour. Painters, gunners and surgeons argued for the intellectual value of their labour and wrote books about their crafts. Scholars entered their workshops and described what they found there. The practices of the scholar – composing essays, writing stories, taking notes, building arguments – met those of the artisan. The 'experimental philosophy', a new approach to studying nature, emerged from this mixture. Parallel changes took place in other parts of the world, notably in China, where scholars compiled vast, illustrated encyclopaedias of craft and industry.

Seminar questions

What was the experimental philosophy?

What did this philosophy owe to artisans?

What did it owe to scholars?

How does the scholar/artisan relationship in China compare to that in Europe?

Essential readings

Dear, Peter, Chapter 3 (The Alchemist, the Craftsman and the Scholar) and Chapter 7 (How to Learn Things About Nature in the Seventeenth Century), in Revolutionizing the Sciences: European Knowledge and its Ambitions, 1500-1700 (Palgrave, 2009).

Cullen, Christopher. 'The Science/Technology Interface in Seventeenth-Century China: Song Yingxing 宋 應 星 on "qi" 氣 and the "wu xing" 五 行.' Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, vol. 53, no. 2 (1990), pp. 295-318.

Also, read one or more of the following primary texts:

Robert Hooke, Micrographia (London, 1665) - take your pick from Observation IV on Fine Waled Silk, or Taffety (including the image after p. 6), Observation VII on Glass Drops (image after p. 10), Observation VIII on Sparks Struck from Flint (image after p. 44). Available online here.

Robert Boyle, 'Absolute Rest in Bodies', in the book Certain Physiological Essays (1669) – read the Advertisment and Sections I, II, and XIII-XVII. Available through the Early English Books Online corpus of digitised books, for which see the Encore catalogue entry here. The book is easy to find using the Search Bar; 'Absolute Rest in Bodies' starts on 'page image' number 161

Yingxing Song, ed. Quiaoping Li, Tien-kung-kai-wu: Exploitation of the Work of Nature: Chinese Agriculture and Technology in the 17th Century (Taipei: China Academy, 1980) – selected excerpts TBC.

Additional readings

The experimental philosophy

Anstey, Peter, ‘Experimental Versus Speculative Natural Philosophy’, in The Science of Nature in the Seventeenth Century Patterns of Change in Early Modern Natural Philosophy (Springer, 2005), pp. 215–42

Henry, John. The Scientific Revolution and the Origins of Modern Science. Palgrave, 2008. 'Experience and Experiment', ie. pp. 33-55. [the chapter in which this section occurs, ie. 'Methods of Science', needs to be scanned]

Wootton, David, ‘Experiment’, in The Invention of Science (London: Penguin, 2015)


Chapters by Jim Bennet (The Mechanical Arts), Kelly Devries (Sites of Military Science and Technology), and Brian Copenhaver (Magic), in Lorraine Daston and Katherine Park, Cambridge History of Science, vol. 3: Early Modern Science (Cambridge UP, 2003)

Cohen, Floris. The Scientific Revolution: A Historiographical Inquiry, chapter 5.2 (The Active Life in Early Modern Europe)

Hall, A. Rupert. 'The Scholar and the Craftsman in the Scientific Revolution.' Critical Problems in the History of Science. Ed. Marshall Clagett. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1962.

Hankins, Thomas L, and Robert J Silverman. Instruments and the Imagination. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 1995.

Henry, John, Chapter 4 (Magic and the Origins of Modern Science), in The Scientific Revolution and the Origins of Modern Science (Palgrave, 2008).

Henry, John. 'Animism and Empiricism: Copernican Physics and the Origins of William Gilbert’s Experimental Method.' Journal of the History of Ideas 62.1 (2001): 99–119.

Hunter, Matthew C. Wicked Intelligence: Visual Art and the Science of Experiment in Restoration London. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013.

Long, Pamela. Artisan/Practitioners and the Rise of the New Science, 1400-1600. Oregan State University Press, 2011 . See especially chapter 4 on trading zones [there is already a course extract for this that needs to be transferred from HI296]

Newman, William. Promethean Ambitions: Alchemy and the Quest to Perfect Nature. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2004. See especially chapter 5 for the argument that, in alchemy, scholars and artisans worked together well before 1500

Walker, Matthew. Architects and Intellectual Culture in Post-Restoration England. Oxford University Press, 2017.

Zilsel, Edgar. 'The Origins of William Gilbert’s Scientific Method.' Journal of the History of Ideas 2.1 (1941): 1–32


Anstey, Peter. 'The Methodological Origins of Newton’s Queries.' Studies In History and Philosophy of Science Part A 35, no. 2 (2004): 247–69.

Blair, Ann. 'Humanist Methods in Natural Philosophy: The Commonplace Book.' Journal of the History of Ideas 53, no. 4 (December 1992): 541–51.

Eamon, William. ‘Arcana Disclosed: The Advent of Printing, the Book of Secrets Tradition and the Development of Experimental Science in the Sixteenth Century’. History of Science 22 (1984): 115–50.

Hunter, Michael. 'Robert Boyle and the Early Royal Society: A Reciprocal Exchange in the Making of Baconian Science.' The British Journal for the History of Science 40, no. 1 (2007): 1–23.

Levitin, Dmitri. Ancient Wisdom in the Age of the New Science: Histories of Philosophy in England, c. 1640-1700. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015.

Sargent, Rose-Mary, ‘Legal Expertise: The Way of Experience in Seventeenth-Century England’, Studies In History and Philosophy of Science Part A, 20 (1989), 19–45

Sargeantson, 'Proof and Persuasion,' in Daston and Park, Cambridge History of Science, volume 3: Early Modern Science. Cambridge UP, 2003.

Shapiro, Barbara J. Probability and Certainty in Seventeenth-Century England: A Study of the Relationships Between Natural Science, Religion, History, Law and Literature. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983.

Yale, Elizabeth. Sociable Knowledge: Natural History and the Nation in Early Modern Britain. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016.

Yeo, Richard. Notebooks, English Virtuosi, and Early Modern Science. University of Chicago Press, 2014 [needs to be ordered for the Warwick library]


Schaefer, Dagmar. The Crafting of the 10,000 Things: Knowledge and Technology in Seventeenth-Century China. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2011.