Medieval Science and Technology

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Medieval science and technology was firmly rooted in Aristotelian explanations of the physical world. This book begins by introducing the basic concepts of the classical tradition, and explains how these ideas were promulgated by the ancient Greeks, preserved and commented on by the great Muslim scholars of the early middle ages, and finally transmitted to western Europe as that region began to grow and expand around 1100 C.E. Specific avenues of inquiry such as astronomy and astrology, optics, chemistry and alchemy, zoology, geography, and medicine are described on their own terms. Rounding out the work is a discussion of the many technological innovations of the medieval age, such as mechanical clocks, firearms, and the blast furnace, that profoundly altered the course of European and world history. Biographical sketches provide insight into the lives and accomplishments of 20 men and women, Christian, Muslim, and pagan, whose works profoundly shaped the era's scientific spirit. Eleven annotated key primary documents afford a fascinating glimpse into how the best minds of the time posed their questions and their answers. An annotated timeline, glossary of terms, several illustrations, and an annotated bibliography round out the work.

Medieval scientists, or natural philosophers, as they were then called, were powerfully influenced by the authority of older traditions, including Christianity and scientific ideas dating back to Plato, Aristotle, and Ptolemy. Yet their respect for these traditions was balanced by an equal respect for reason and the spirit of inquiry. Religious faith, far from dampening scientific and technological innovation, actually buttressed their efforts to understand the natural world as it was generally taken for granted that knowledge acquired through reason would harmonize with religious beliefs. While medieval science and technology did not seek to overthrow the prevailing worldviews of the time, their accomplishments did lay the groundwork for the scientific revolution and European global expansion of the early modern age.

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Product Details

Meet the Author

ELSPETH WHITNEY is Associate Professor of History at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She is the author of Paradise Restored: The Mechanical Arts from Antiquity through the 13th Century (1990), and she has published articles in Annals of Scolarship, Medieval Latin Studies, Journal of Women's History, and Women in Medieval Culture.

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Table of Contents

Ch. 1 Overview and history : the classical tradition and the early Middle Ages 1
Ch. 2 Institutional history : the high and late Middle Ages 17
Ch. 3 Aristotle, Plato, and the medieval scientific worldview 37
Ch. 4 The exact sciences 59
Ch. 5 The biological and earth sciences 89
Ch. 6 Medieval technology 111
Ch. 7 The impact of medieval science and technology 139
Biographies 147
Adelard of Bath 147
Albertus Magnus (Albert the Great) 148
Alhazen (Ibn al-Haythan) 149
Aristotle 150
Avicenna (Ibn Sina) 152
Roger Bacon 153
Thomas Bradwardine 155
Filippo Brunelleschi 156
John Buridan 157
Giovanni Dondi 158
Leonardo Fibonacci (Leonardo of Pisa) 159
Galen of Pergamum 159
Gerard of Cremona 161
Robert Grosseteste 161
Hildegard of Bingen 162
Isidore of Seville 165
Nicole Oresme 166
Peter Peregrinus (Peter of Maricourt) 167
Plato 168
Claudius Ptolemy 170
Trotula 171
Primary documents 173
1 Aristotle on final causes in nature; from the Physics 173
2 Galen (129-199 or 200) on female physiology and inferiority 176
3 Trotula on the diseases of women (eleventh century) 177
4 Adelard of Bath (c. 1080-1142) on the important scientific questions in the twelfth century; from his Questions on natural science 185
5 Albertus Magnus (c. 1193-1280) on animals : the rabbit and spiders 189
6 Guy de Chauliac (c. 1290-c. 1367-70), medieval surgeon, on what makes a good doctor 193
7 A medieval herbal (thirteenth century) 196
8 Nicole Oresme (c. 1325-82) and arguments for the diurnal rotation of the earth 202
9 Hugh of St. Victor on the mechanical arts 206
10 Roger Bacon (c. 1219-92) on experimental science; from the Opus maius 213
11 A Cistercian monk praises the mechanized water system of Clairvaux Abbey 219
12 Medieval alchemy 221
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