The Scientific Revolution, 1450-1700


This course examines the development of scientific thought and institutions in Western Europe during the critical period from 1450 to 1700 known as the Scientific Revolution.  Because those engaged in scientific pursuits during this period were very consciously reacting to the thought of their predecessors, the course opens with a survey of developments in science—known as natural philosophy—from classical Antiquity through the Middle Ages.  With the reintroduction throughout the early modern period of ancient Greek and Roman texts, natural philosophers both adapted and rejected classical thought in formulating their own interpretations of the phenomena observable in the natural world around them.  As a result of their efforts, “new” versions of “old” approaches emerged, and areas such as astronomy and astrology, chemistry and alchemy, physics and natural magic, coexisted within the accepted body of knowledge of the natural world.  Open to all undergraduates, this course—primarily in the history of ideas—requires no prior training in the sciences or in European history.

Classes will be conducted in a lecture/discussion style.  Students will write one short (5-7-page) paper, a (3-5-page) research prospectus with annotated bibliography, and a (12-15-page) research paper, in addition to taking an in-class midterm and a final examination.  (This course satisfies the Second Writing Requirement.)

Readings will average 100 pages each week and will be drawn from a photocopied packet containing excerpts from the works of such writers as Plato, Aristotle, Ptolemy, Galen, Paracelsus, Bacon, Kepler, Harvey, Galileo, and Newton, as well as from the following required texts:

Dear, Revolutionizing the Sciences
Debus, Man and Nature in the Renaissance
Descartes, Discourse on Method
Lindberg, The Beginnings of Western Science
Galileo, Sidereus Nuncius

Corcoran Department of History
University of Virginia
Nau Hall - South Lawn
Charlottesville, VA 22904


(434) 924-7147
(434) 924-7891
M-F 8am to 4:30pm
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