1st Edition

A History of Western Science The Basics

By Rienk Vermij Copyright 2024
    270 Pages
    by Routledge

    270 Pages
    by Routledge

    A History of Western Science: The Basics offers a short introduction to the history of Western science that is accessible to all through avoiding technical language and mathematical intricacies. A coherent narrative of how science developed in interaction with society over time is also provided in this comprehensive guide.

    The first part discusses the period up to 1700, with a focus on the conceptual shift and new ideas about nature that occurred in early modern Europe. Part two focusses on the practical and institutional aspects of the scientific enterprise and discusses how science established itself in Western society post 1700s, while part three discusses how during the same period modern science has impacted our general view of the world, and reviews some of the major discoveries and debates.

    Key topics discussed in the book include:

    • Natural philosophy, medicine, and mathematics in the ancient and medieval worlds
    • The key figures in the history of science—Galileo, Descartes, Isaac Newton, Darwin and Einstein—as well as lesser-known men and women who have developed the field
    • The development of scientific instruments, the transformation of alchemy into chemistry, weights and measures, the emergence of the modern hospital and its effects on medicine, and the systematic collection of data on meteorology, volcanism, and terrestrial magnetism
    • The big questions – the origins of humans, the nature of reality and the impact of science.

    As a jargon-free and comprehensive study of the history of Western science, this book is an essential introductory guide for academics and researchers of the history of science, as well as general readers interested in learning more about the field.


    Part I. The Scientific Revolution

    1. Antiquity and the Middle Ages

           Greek philosophers and nature

           Greek mathematics

           Medicine in antiquity

           The classical tradition in mediaeval Europe

    2. The sixteenth century: the Aristotelian worldview in decline

           New intellectual currents: humanism and hermeticism

           Natural history and medicine

           Mathematics and ‘natural magic’


           Philosophy of nature

    3. The seventeenth century: a new worldview

           Galileo and a new view of the heavens

           Descartes and mechanistic science

           The emergence of an experimental tradition

           Mathematization of science

           The mathematical science of Isaac Newton

           A revolution in the prevailing worldview?


    Part II. Autonomous science: methods, theories and researchers 1700-2000

    4. The eighteenth century: disseminating the idea of science

           Knowledge and practice: instruments

           Collecting and classifying: natural history

           From alchemy to chemistry

           Newtonian mechanics and its problems

    5. The nineteenth century (i): science at the service of the rationalization of society

           A ‘scientific’ system of measurement

           The modern hospital

           Observatories, measuring stations and a global science

           Science and Western imperialism

    6. The nineteenth century (ii): professional science

           Universities and professors

           Women in science


           Classification and conferences

           The rise of the experiment: physiology

           Measuring and experimenting in the study of nature

           Further mathematization


    7. The twentieth century: industrial science

           The rise of industrial science

           The science of measurement

           Research institutes

           Control and modelling

           Independence under pressure


    Part III. The scientific worldview

    8. The origin of the world

           The Bible and the new image of the world

           The development of geology

           The origin of the universe

    9. The nature of life and the origin of human beings

           Early scientific ideas about humankind and its place in the world

           The idea of evolution

           Darwin’s contribution


           The mysteries of the mind

           The mechanism of heredity

           Heredity and evolution

           A science of human beings?

    10. The nature of reality

           A rational world?

           The building blocks of reality

           Research into radiation

           The theory of relativity

           Quantum mechanics

           In search of a theory of everything

    11. The influence of science on the general worldview


           Accommodation of scientific findings

           Rejection of scientific findings


    Concluding remarks



    Rienk Vermij is a Professor at the Department of the History of Science, Medicine, and Technology of the University of Oklahoma. His research topics include early ideas on earthquakes, the reception of Copernicanism, and the Enlightenment. He has published several books and many articles.