June 23 – July 14, 2019
Professor Christopher Clemens, Department of Physics and Astronomy
The phrase “scientific revolution” refers to a series of radical changes to our view of the cosmos and our methods for learning about it. But were the changes really radical, and is revolution the appropriate word? This class will examine that question beginning in the 13th century, when natural philosophers in Paris began to question the authority of Aristotle in physics, while the Oxford Calculators at Merton College discovered a way to employ the methods of Euclidian geometry to prove theorems of mechanics.
This course will examine the critical period from 1277 to 1610 during which the science and practical knowledge of astronomy emerged on separate but interacting tracks, coming together eventually in the application of sophisticated instruments to measure the heavens.
Students will learn about the basic motions of the solar system as viewed from Earth, and how they are reproduced by the Copernican and Ptolemaic models. They will also learn about basic mechanics as taught at Oxford in 1340, and how to reckon time and tides in the Julian Calendar using copies of period tidal calculators like the simple card recovered in the wreck of the Mary Rose in Portsmouth, and more complicated devices found at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich. They will also learn how to evaluate historical claims by consulting original sources and commentaries of experts. They will develop a richer and more nuanced view of what modern science is and how it emerged in the nexus of intellectual scholasticism and practical seamanship. They will learn to think critically about the popular idea of singular heroes who wrought a scientific revolution, and learn to consider the centuries-long process that started in the medieval universities of the 13th Century and developed into our modern conceptions of science and the Cosmos.
Satisfies PL and WB general education requirements, electives in allied science and natural science for some majors.