The Origins of Modern Science, 1500-1700

Professor Michael S. Mahoney

I. Structure of the Course

II. Books to be Purchased

All assigned readings are also on 3-hour reserve in the Reserve Room in Firestone Library. There are some general resources for the course on the World Wide Web. Each week has a link to the sources pertinent to its topics.

III. Lectures and Assignments

Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4 Week 5 Week 6 Week 7 Week 8 Week 9 Week 10 Week 11 Week 12

Week I (5 February)

  • Lecture 1. Introduction: Science, Culture, and History
  • Lecture 2. The World of Aristotle and Ptolemy
John of Holywood, On the Sphere, in E. Grant (ed.), Source Book in Medieval Science, 442-451 (in Readings and online)
Anon., Theorica planetarum (Models of the Planets), in Grant, 451-465 (in Readings)
M.S. Mahoney, "Ptolemaic Astronomy in the Middle Ages", (online and in Readings)
WWW Resources  | Background and Supplementary Reading

Week II (12 February)

  • Lecture 3. The World on Its Head: Copernicus' On the Revolutions
  • Lecture 4. The Union of Head and Hand: Vesalius'On the Structure of the Human Body
Nicholas Copernicus, On the Revolutions (trans. Rosen), Prefatory material and Book I (online) and Book V, pp. 227-254 (in packet)
Andreas Vesalius, On the Fabric of the Human Body, Preface and Printer's Note to the Reader (Online edition at Northwestern; go to the homepage and from there to Book One, then choose the two items from the sidebar on the left.)
J.D.deC. Saunders and C.D. O'Malley, The Illustrations from the Works of Andreas Vesalius of Brussels (On reserve at Firestone: spend some time looking at Vesalius'drawings) or visit the online selection at the National Library of Medicine's "Historical Anatomies on the Web".
WWW Resources  | Background and Supplementary Reading 

Week III (19 February)

  • Lecture 5. Shaping the World: Renaissance Engineering
  • Lecture 6. Machines and Motion: Galileo's Two New Sciences
S. Drake and I.E. Drabkin, Mechanics in Sixteenth-Century Italy, 3-26, 63-78, 241-258 [E-reserve]
Galileo Galilei, Discourses and Demonstrations Concerning Two New Sciences (trans. Crew and DeSalvio [online or pdf], or Drake), First Day, 49-68, 105-118, 127-141; Second Day, 151-158; Third Day, 190, 197-214; Fourth Day, 268-280 (N.B. the page numbers here refer to those of the standard Italian edition and are given in square brackets in the Crew-DeSalvio translation and at the side of the page in the Drake translation)
WWW Resources  | Background and Supplementary Reading 

Week IV (26 February)

  • Lecture 7. Breaking the Circle: Kepler's New Astronomy
  • Lecture 8. The Cosmological Crisis: Galileo's Two World System
Curtis Wilson, "How did Kepler Discover His First Two Laws?", Scientific American (March 1972), 92-106 (in packet)
Galileo Galilei, The Assayer, selections in Discoveries and Opinions of Galileo (trans. Drake), 231-280 [ online]
Galileo, Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems (trans. Drake), 46-80, 140-188 (in packet)
WWW Resources  | Background and Supplementary Reading

Week V (5 March)

  • Lecture 9. The Promise and Threat of Magic
  • Lecture 10. Bacon on Truth and Utility
William Eamon, "Technology as Magic in the Late Middle Ages and the Renaissance" Janus 70(1983), 171-212 (in packet)
Francis Bacon, The New Organon, Book I (pp. 33-120) [online version] [and another] [and the original Latin]
WWW Resources | Background and Supplementary Reading

Week VI (12 March)

  • Lecture 11. Meeting the Sceptical Challenge 
  • Lecture 12. Optics and Mechanicism 
Marin Mersenne, The Truth of the Sciences (online and in packet)
Rene Descartes, Discourse on Method, Optics, Geometry and Meteorology (trans. Olscamp), 65-83, 162-173, 332-352 (in packet)
WWW Resources  | Background and Supplementary Reading

********* MIDTERM BREAK *********

Week VII (26 March)

  • Lecture 13.The Cosmology of Light: Descartes' World
  • Lecture 14. The Mechanical Philosophy
Descartes, The World, or a Treatise on Light (online and in Readings)
WWW Resources  | Background and Supplementary Reading


Week VIII (2 April)

  • Lecture 15. The Motions of the Body: Harvey's Theory of Circulation
  • Lecture 16. The Sublimity of the Mundane
William Harvey, The Motion of the Heart and Blood in Animals [online version]
Descartes, Discourse on Method, Sect. V [online version]
WWW Resources  | Background and Supplementary Reading

Week IX (9 April)

  • Lecture 17. The Virtuosi 
  • Lecture 18. Salomon's House 
Accademia del Cimento, Essayes of Natural Experiments (1667), sels. in Readings
Robert Hooke, Micrographia (1665), sels. in Readings [Original edition online]
Steven Shapin, "Pump and Circumstance: Robert Boyle's Literary Technology", Social Studies of Science 14(1984), 481-520 (online version)
WWW Resources  | Background and Supplementary Reading

Week X (16  April)

  • Lecture 19. Learning to Work Together
  • Lecture 20. Pendulums and Falling Bodies
either E. Mariotte et al., New Discoveries Touching Vision (online) or "The Hooke-Newton Dispute Over Colors" (in the Philosophical Transactions available online through JStor)
Memorandum from Christiaan Huygens to Minister Colbert regarding the work of the new Académie Royale des Sciences
M.S. Mahoney, "Christiaan Huygens: The Measurement of Time and of Longitude at Sea", in H.J.M. Bos et al. (eds), Studies on Christiaan Huygens, 234-270
M.S. Mahoney, "Organizing Expertise: Engineering and Public Works under Colbert, 1662-83
WWW Resources  | Background and Supplementary Reading

Week XI (23 April)

  • Lecture 21. Pendulums and Moons: Newton's Principia
  • Lecture 22. "Nature conformable unto herself": The Newtonian World
Isaac Newton, Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy (ed. Cajori), xvii-xxxiii, 1-28 [definitions and axioms], 40-41 [Prop. I], 398-419 [preface, rules of reasoning, phaenomena, Props. I-X], 543-547 [General Scholium]
Newton, Opticks (ed. Cohen), Query 31 [in packet; online pdf version of 1721 edition, Qu. 31 at pp. 350-382]
WWW Resources  | Background and Supplementary Reading

Week XII (30 April)

  • Lecture 23. Competition on the Continent
  • Lecture 24. The Light of Science: St. Petersburg and Beijing 
D'Alembert, Preliminary Discourse, Part II
Nathan Sivin, "Why the Scientific Revolution Did Not Take Place in China -- Or Didn't It?", in Transformation and Tradition in the Sciences: Essays in Honor of I. Bernard Cohen (ed. Everett Mendelsohn), 531-554
WWW Resources  | Background and Supplementary Reading