'Modern science was invented between 1572 and 1704.' So begins a recent book by the historian David Wootton. Few historians agree straightforwardly with Wootton's claim, but most agree that the period 1500 to 1700 saw dramatic changes in the way Europeans understood the natural world. These changes included new theories about light, the cosmos and the origin of the earth, new ideas about the structure of matter, a new commitment to using experiment and mathematics to study nature, and new institutions for doing so.
The when, why, what and who of early modern science were studied in detail in the twentieth century. The where of science is now getting the attention it deserves. The classic answer to this question was: science happened in laboratories and observatories attached to nation scientific institutions, such the Royal Society of London and the Paris Academy of Sciences. The last two decades have thrown up new answers to the “where” question and given new life to older answers. Kitchens, cathedrals, households, apothecary shops, arsenals, mines, print shops, pubs and coffee shops were all important sites for the study of the natural world in early modern Europe. Even stables mattered – horses were often kept in the vicinity of paintings, and hence in the vicinity of the collections of wondrous creations of art and nature known as Wunderkammer or Curiosity Cabinets.
This seminar explores the range of places where science was done and examines the significance of these places. Please read a) the core text, to get a feel for the overall shape of early modern science, and b) two optional readings of your choice.
Consider these questions
- Where was science done?
- How do historians know, ie. what sort of sources do they use to study the sites of early modern science?
- Why does this matter, ie. what do we learn about the when, why, what and who of early modern science by studying where it was done?
Park, Katharine, and Lorraine Daston. ‘Introduction: The Age of the New’. In The Cambridge History of Science, edited by Katharine Park and Lorraine Daston (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016), 1-18.
Long, Pamela. Artisan/Practitioners and the Rise of the New Science, 1400-1600. Oregan State University Press, 2011 - Introduction and Chapter 4 ('Trading Zones: Arenas of Production and Exchange')
Simon Werrett, Thrifty Science: Making the Most of Materials in the History of Experiment (Chicago UP, 2019), Chapter 2
Valentina Pugliano, “Natural History in the Apothecary's Shop”, in Helen Curry, Nicholas Jardine, James Secord, Emma Spary, eds., Worlds of Natural History (Cambridge UP, 2018), 44-60
John Heilbron, “Science in the Church,” Science in Context 3 (1/1989): 9-28
Further reading on early modern science
See the footnotes in the above texts, the chapters in the Cambridge History of Science, vol. 3 cited above, and the webpages for the (no longer running) second-year module The Scientific Revolution in Perspective:
You may also find this general bibliography of early modern science useful: