1st Edition

Scientific Practices in European History, 1200-1800
A Book of Texts

ISBN 9781138656413
Published August 15, 2017 by Routledge
194 Pages

USD $46.95

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Book Description

Scientific Practices in European History, 1200–1800 presents and situates a collection of extracts from both widely known texts by such figures as Copernicus, Newton, and Lavoisier, and lesser known but significant items, all chosen to provide a perspective on topics in social, cultural and intellectual history and to illuminate the concerns of the early modern period.

The selection of extracts highlights the emerging technical preoccupations of this period, while the accompanying introductions and annotations make these occasionally complex works accessible to students and non-specialists. The book follows a largely chronological sequence and helps to locate scientific ideas and practices within broader European history.

The primary source materials in this collection stand alone as texts in themselves, but in illustrating the scientific components of early modern societies they also make this book ideal for teachers and students of European history.

Table of Contents

List of figures

List of tables



  1. Navigating
  2. Petrus Peregrinus, On the Magnet, trans. Brother Arnold (New York: McGraw, 1904). Public domain. Part I, chaps. 1-10; Part II, chap. 3.

  3. Modelling a Disputation
  4. Thomas Aquinas, "Disputed Questions Concerning the Power of God, Trans. the English Dominican Fathers (Westminster, MD: Newman Press, 1952 [1932]). Public Domain. Q. VI: Article I (selections).

  5. Making Sense of the Cosmos
  6. Sacrobosco, De sphaera, trans. Lynn Thorndike (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1949). Open access. Chaps. 1-4 (pp.118-123).

  7. Reordering the Cosmos
  8. Nicolaus Copernicus, De revolutionibus orbium coelestium ("On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres"), Preface, slightly modified translation from Charles W. White (ed.), Prefaces and Prologues to Famous Books, Harvard Classics vol. 39 (New York: P. F. Collier, 1910), pp. 52-57.

  9. Seeing New Things: The New World
  10. Jose de Acosta, Natural and Moral History of the Indies [De Orbe Novo], trans. 1604 (Biodiversity library, an 1880 edition); some additional paragraphing added.

  11. Practical Knowledge, Experimental Manipulation, and Natural Philosophy
  12. William Gilbert, De magnete , trans. Sylvanus P. Thompson (London: Chiswick Press, 1900): most of Edward Wright’s preface, and Bk.6, chap.1 (very slightly adjusted).

  13. Seeing New Things: The Heavens
  14. Galileo, Sidereus nuncius (1610), translated Edward Stafford Carlos (1880), revised by Peter Barker, Byzantium Press, 2004. Extracts reproduced by permission of copyright holder. Preface, and pp. 5r-6v, 11r-13r, 28r-28v.


  15. Novelty from Experience
  16. Francis Bacon, Sylva sylvarum (London, 1626), paras.14-16, 143-153, 326, 328, 795, 812-815, 886, 998.

  17. Making Experimental Knowledge
  18. Galileo Galilei, Discourses and Demonstrations Concerning Two New Sciences (Italian, with Latin passages, 1638; English trans. by Henry Crew and Alfonso de Salvio, 1914), extracts from Second Day (pp. 109-117).

  19. Casting a Horoscope
  20. William Lilly, Christian Astrology (London, 1647), extracts from "To the Reader."

  21. Seeing New Things
  22. Robert Hooke, Micrographia (London, 1665); the preface (with small omissions).

  23. Systematic Data-Gathering
  24. [Robert Boyle] "General Heads for a Natural History of a Countrey, Great or small, imparted likewise by Mr. Boyle." Philosophical Transactions 1 (1665-66), pp. 186-189.

  25. Experimental Philosophy
  26. [Isaac Newton] "A Letter of Mr. Isaac Newton ... containing his New Theory about Light and Colours," Philosophical Transactions (No. 80, February 19, 1671/72), pp. 3075-3079 (extract).

  27. Social Data
  28. William Petty, Another Essay in Political Arithmetick (London, 1682), pp. 3-22.

  29. Trade and the Physical Globe
  30. Edmond Halley, "An Historical Account of the Trade Winds, and Monsoons, observable in the Seas between and near the Tropicks, with an attempt to assign the Phisical cause of the said Winds," Philosophical Transactions 16 (1686 - 1692), pp. 153-168.

  31. Finding New Phenomena: Electrical Effects
  32. C.-F. Dufay, "First memoir on electricity," Mem. de l’Academ. R des Sc., 1733, extracts from pp. 23-35; "Fourth memoir on electricity" (extract, pp. 457- 459). Trans. by Peter Dear.

  33. Electricity: Balancing the Books
  34. Benjamin Franklin, letter to Peter Collinson about Philadelphia expts. From Collinson’s Experiments and Observations on Electricity (1751), Letter II (July 11, 1747), pp. 13-16,

  35. How to Make Sense of Diversity in Nature
  36. Georges-Louis Leclerc, comte de Buffon, Histoire naturelle, vol.1 (1749), pp. 49-55. Trans. by Peter Dear.

  37. Building a Newtonian Universe
  38. John Michell, "On the Means of Discovering the Distance, Magnitude, &c. of the Fixed Stars...," Philosophical Transactions 74 (1784), extract from pp. 51-57:

  39. Charles’s Balloon Ascent
  40. Barthélemy Faujas de Saint-Fond, Première suite de la description des expériences aérostatiques (Paris, 1784), pp. 44-47. Trans. by Peter Dear.

  41. Lavoisier’s Work on Water
  42. "Sur la formation et la decomposition de l’eau," Histoire de l’Académie Royale des Sciences, 1781 (Paris, 1784), pp. 21-25: "On the Formation and Decomposition of Water," trans. by Peter Dear.

  43. Making Chemistry Rational
  44. Antoine Lavoisier, Preface to Elements of Chemistry, pp. xiii-xxxvii , translated by Robert Kerr, 1790.

  45. A New Phenomenon: Current Electricity
  46. Alessandro Volta, Phil. Trans. 1800 Pt.II, dated 20th March, 1800; read to the Royal Society 26th June, 1800, pp. 403-409). English translation in The Philosophical Magazine, Sept. 1800, pp. 289-311.

  47. Human Sciences: Philology and Anthropology
  48. William Jones (from The Works of Sir William Jones, 1807, vol. 3, pp. 185-204), Ninth Anniversary Discourse to the Asiatick Society, Calcutta.

  49. Science and Industry
  50. William Murdoch, "An Account of the Application of the Gas from Coal to Economical Purposes," Philosophical Transactions 98 (1808) pp. 124-132 (extracts).

  51. Malthus and Political Economy

Thomas Malthus, An Essay on the Principle of Population (London, 1798), extracts from chap. 1.



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Peter Dear is Professor of the History of Science at Cornell University, USA. His previous publications include Revolutionizing the Sciences: European Knowledge and Its Ambitions, 1500-1700 (2009), The Intelligibility of Nature: How Science Makes Sense of the World (2006), and Discipline and Experience: The Mathematical Way in the Scientific Revolution (1995).