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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 296 times)
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« on: October 16, 2008, 12:45:39 pm »

The early-modern historian of mathematics and the sciences, however, generally had to intervene more dramatically in the narrative. For reasons that will become clear from the papers below, almost all rejected a static conception of the arts. A few (like Regiomontanus and Savile) embraced a narrative of progress, in which the Greeks surpassed the biblical or mythical ancients, and moderns might hope to do the same. Others (such as Ramus and Raleigh) constructed a cycle of degeneration and recovery. But whichever model they adopted, they used their history to address the current state of their discipline. Unlike magic, mathematics was part of the medieval arts curriculum; most of the authors considered in these essays were, in one way or another, concerned with the reform of the syllabus and the introduction of newly discovered texts or techniques into the schools (or into popular currency). The mismatch between their ideals and the actual condition of the sciences all but demanded a historiographical model built upon change, whether for the better or the worse.

Regiomontanus, for instance, saw a break in the history of astronomy, but not between classical and medieval authors—as one might expect a humanist author to do. Instead, the divide occurs between the semi-mythical origins of the sciences, and their practice by historical human beings. He accepts that Abraham and Prometheus had some extraordinary knowledge of astronomy and were instrumental in its foundation as a science; on the other hand, historical records show that Hipparchus first discovered the precession of the equinoxes, a prerequisite to any adequate astronomy or accurate calendar. While Regiomontanus's own astronomy could claim continuity with that of the most ancient human beings, he found room for technical innovation and the increase of the art itself both in history and in its contemporary practice.
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