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Histories of Science in Early Modern Europe

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Author Topic: Histories of Science in Early Modern Europe  (Read 278 times)
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« on: October 16, 2008, 12:41:14 pm »

The papers here argue that there were indeed histories of mathematics before Montucla which are worthy of scholarly attention, and that the dismissal of Renaissance histories of science as nothing more than a "cloud of fine adjectives and metaphors" is unfair (although it contains a germ of truth). Anthony Grafton has argued in an article on the historical writings of Cardano, Rheticus, and Kepler, that the purpose of such texts was not so much to trace what actually happened, as to justify the study of a subject often deridedóby both humanist and scholastic writersóas obscure, useless and undignified.6 The following four papers go further in arguing that writings in this genre (or, at least, some writings in this genre) were not limited to this characteristically humanist objective. Authors did not just use their histories to persuade others. They themselves relied on historical narratives in order to think about their discipline, define its parts, distinguish among its acceptable and unacceptable forms and prescribe its content [End Page 34] and method of teaching. By placing their discipline into a historical context shared by other, more mainstream humanistic arts, moreover, they could draw upon the large, narrative structures which Renaissance humanists had adapted to understand human intellectual and cultural development, origins, progress and decline.

James Byrne's article highlights a disparity of vision between those humanists who treated the origin of the arts as just another subject for humanistic display; and those (like Regiomontanus) who were invested in the arts and wrote their histories from an insider's perspective. Alongside Regiomontanus, one could include several other authors treated in this collection, such as Thomas Vaughan, Peter Ramus, and Henry Savile. In each case, history provided a means for working through problems of the legitimacy and nature of their disciplines. While their writings are not "histories of the human mind," their interests went beyond mere rehearsal of anecdotes. Ramus's histories, for instance, written 200 years before Montucla's Histoire, had the kind of unifying vision which de Montmort demanded, and shared Montucla's concern to find a meaning in the development of mathematics. Ramus, and the supporters and detractors he spawned, were convinced that constructing the history of this science was crucial to understanding how and why human beings have knowledge, and how that knowledge should be taught in the academies of Europe.
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