History of Science from the 13th to the 18th Century (ISI)
- Department: Liberal Arts
- Area: History
- Credit Hours: 3, Contact Hours: 45
- Course Number (SRISA): HIST 3203
- Course Number (Maryville University): TBA
The course traces the history of Western science from the late Middle Ages to the age of the Enlightenment through the so-called Scientific Revolution and from an Italian perspective. It aims to account for the transformations of scientific discourse over nearly five centuries by integrating the traditional narrative of epoch-making discoveries and advances with an exploration of the milieux within which science was not only practiced and disseminated but also criticized and opposed. Besides illustrating the dominant theories, the course concentrates on the making of scientific disciplines and fields, juxtaposing the traditional (i.e. scholastic) university setting and the newly established scientific societies, academies, laboratories, observatories, anatomy theaters, botanical gardens, natural history collections, all of which contributed to a growth in depth and breadth of the new science.
Italy played a crucial role in the development of science in early modern times, and the city of Florence in particular provides an ideal setting for the course, which will take advantage of the major collection of Galileo Galilei’s scientific instruments and biographical materials preserved in Florentine institutions (e.g. the Museo Galileo). Moreover, the concentration in Florence of great masterpieces of Renaissance architecture and engineering will make it possible to fully appreciate the cross fertilization of traditionally distinct domains such as the world of art and craftsmanship, on the one hand, and the world of mathematics and physics (including not only geometry but also statics and even ballistics), on the other. In this regard, the figure of Leonardo da Vinci, however idiosyncratic and contaminated by myth, stands out for his exceptionally diverse interests and achievements.
Within reach are also the unparalleled collections of naturalia – now the core of the University of Bologna’s natural history museum – amassed throughout the sixteenth century by one of the founding fathers of natural history, the Bolognese Ulisse Aldrovandi. Thanks to its university (established in 1088, the first in Europe) as well as its Istituto delle Scienze (established in 1711), Bologna may rightly claim to have been one of the capitals of Italian science; and this reputation is well deserved by the Bolognese community not only for being the academic context of momentous breakthroughs and achievements (among others, Luigi Galvani’s discovery of animal electricity), but also for taking the challenge of reforming the all-male scientific establishment and acknowledging women’s rights and potential. That challenge can now be accounted for historically through the life and career of the Bolognese physicist Laura Bassi, who was appointed full professor of experimental physics in 1776. Still within reach are the botanic garden (1544) and the anatomy theater (1595) of the University of Padua, both of which were the first of their kind in Europe and provided a model to other universities and scientific institutions for the decades to come.
This course runs through SRISA's partners at ISI.