Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Week 5. Explorers, merchants and missionaries, 1500-1700. Networks.

The handout and slides for this week's lecture are available here.

Natural knowledge was an essential part of new, far-flung networks that emerged in the early modern period. Within Europe, exchanges between scholars were facilitated by the printing press and improved postal services. Further afield, Europe was joined up to Asia and the Americas by the work of sailors, merchants, missionaries and imperial administrators. These networks facilitated the movement of books, letters, instruments and natural objects, as well as people. All the sciences were transformed as a result - not just field sciences like cartography and geography, but also astronomy, natural history, and even chemistry and physics.

Seminar questions:

What were the new knowledge networks that emerged in the early modern period?

How did these networks shape natural knowledge?

Were these networks global?

Essential readings:

Read the Harris chapter and one of the three other readings.

Harris, Stephen. ‘Networks of Correspondence, Travel and Exchange.’ In Lorraine Daston and Katherine Park, Cambridge History of Science, vol. 3: Early Modern Science.

Raj, Kapil. ‘Surgeons, Fakirs, Merchants, and Craftsmen: Making L’Empereur’s Jardin in Early Modern South Asia.’ Relocating Modern Science: Circulation and the Construction of Knowledge in South Asia and Europe, 1650-1900. Palgrave, 2007.

Portuondo, Maria. ‘Cosmography at the Casa, Consejo, and Corte During the Century of Discovery.’ In Daniela Bleichmar, Paula De Vos, Kristin Huffine, and Kevin Sheehan, eds., Science in the Spanish and Portuguese Empires, 1500-1800. Stanford UP, 2009.

Zhang, Qiong. ‘The Introduction and Refashioning of the Terraqueous Globe’ (read up to p. 178). In Making the New World Their Own: Chinese Encounters with Jesuit Science in the Age of Discovery. Brill, 2015.

Additional readings:

Republic of Letters

Goldgar, Anne. Impolite Learning: Conduct and Community in the Republic of Letters, 1680-1750. New Haven ; London: Yale University Press, 1995.

Goodman, Dena. The Republic of Letters: A Cultural History of the French Enlightenment. Ithaca ; London: Cornell University Press, 1994.

Greengrass, Mark, Michael Leslie, and Timothy Raylor, eds. Samuel Hartlib and Universal Reformation: Studies in Intellectual Communication. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

Testa, Simone. Italian Academies and Their Networks, 1525-1700: From Local to Global. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.

Iberian empires

Barrera-Osorio, Antonio. Experiencing Nature: the Spanish American Empire and the Early Scientific Revolution (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press). See especially the chapter entitled 'Books of Nature' [this is a course extract that needs to be transferred from the HI296 list]

Bleichmar, Daniela, ed. Science in the Spanish and Portuguese Empires, 1500-1800 (Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press, 2009)

Gómez, Pablo F. The Experimental Caribbean: Creating Knowledge and Healing in the Early Modern Atlantic. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2017. [needs to be ordered for Warwick library]

Guerrero, Saúl. Silver by Fire, Silver by Mercury: A Chemical History of Silver Refining in New Spain and Mexico, 16c to 19c. Leiden: Brill, 2017. [needs to be ordered for Warwick library]

Hooykaas, Reijer. Science in Manueline Style. Academia International da Cultura Portuguesa, 1980. [needs to be ordered for Warwick Library]

Lane, Kris. 'Gone Platinum: Contraband and Chemistry in Eighteenth-Century Colombia.' Colonial Latin American Review 20, no. 1 (2011): 61–79.

Sanchez, Antonio. ‘Science by Regimento: Standardising Long-Distance Control and New Spaces of Knowledge in Early Modern Portuguese Cosmography.' Early Science and Medicine, 21 (2016), 133–55

Sánchez, Antonio, and Henrique Leitão. 'Introduction: Revisiting Early Modern Iberian Science, from the Fifteenth to the Seventeenth Centuries.' Early Science and Medicine 21, no. 2–3 (June 24, 2016): 107–12.

East India Companies

Ash, Eric H.. Power, Knowledge, and Expertise in Elizabethan England (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004), chapters 3 (Early Mathematical Navigation in England) and 4 (Secants, Sailors, and Elizabethan Manuals of Navigation)

Cook, Harold. Matters of Exchange: Commerce, Medicine, and Science in the Dutch Golden Age. Yale University Press, 2007.

Damodaran, Vinita, Anna Winterbottom, and Alan Lester, eds.The East India Company and the Natural World. Palgrave Studies in World Environmental History. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Huigen, Siegfried, Jan L. de Jong, and Elmer Kolfin, eds. The Dutch Trading Companies as Knowledge Networks. Leiden: Brill, 2010.

Pumfrey, Stephen, Latitude and the Magnetic Earth: The True Story of Queen Elizabeth’s Most Distinguished Man of Science (Cambridge: Icon Books, 2003), chapter 5 (Imperial Explorers and the Rise of Magnetic Navigation)

Schaffer, Simon. 'Newton on the Beach: The Information Order of Principia Mathematica.' History of Science 47, no. 3 (September 2009): 243–76.


Feingold, Mordechai, ed. Jesuit Science and the Republic of Letters. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003.

Harris, Steven J. 'Confession-Building, Long-Distance Networks, and the Organization of Jesuit Science.' Early Science and Medicine 1, no. 3 (October 1996): 287–318.

Godwin, Joscelyn. Athanasius Kircher’s Theatre of the World: His Life, Work, and the Search for Universal Knowledge. Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions, 2015.

Perkins, Franklin. 'Leibniz’s Exchange with the Jesuits in China.' In Leibniz and His Correspondents, edited by Paul Lodge. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Zhang, Qiong. Making the New World Their Own: Chinese Encounters with Jesuit Science in the Age of Discovery. Leiden: Brill, 2015.


Grafton, Anthony, April Shelford, and Nancy G. Siraisi. 'Drugs and Diseases: New World Biology and Old World Learning.' In New Worlds, Ancient Texts: The Power of Tradition and the Shock of Discovery, 159–94. Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1992. [course extract to transfer from HI296 list]

Wootton, David. 'Inventing Discovery.' In The Invention of Science. London, Penguin, 2015. Available as a course extract [to transfer from HI296 list].