Shores of Knowledge: New World Discoveries and the Scientific Imaginationby Joyce Appleby
“Uncommonly good . . . makes a compelling case that . . . intellectual curiosity not only changed Europe, but launched modernity.” —Cleveland Plain DealerWhen Columbus first returned to Spain from the Caribbean, he dazzled King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella with exotic parrots, tropical flowers, and bits of gold. Inspired by the/p>/em>
“Uncommonly good . . . makes a compelling case that . . . intellectual curiosity not only changed Europe, but launched modernity.” —Cleveland Plain DealerWhen Columbus first returned to Spain from the Caribbean, he dazzled King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella with exotic parrots, tropical flowers, and bits of gold. Inspired by the promise of riches, countless seafarers poured out of the Iberian Peninsula and wider Europe in search of spices, treasure, and land. Many returned with strange tales of the New World.
Curiosity began to percolate through Europe as the New World’s people, animals, and plants ruptured prior assumptions about the biblical description of creation. The Church, long fearful of challenges to its authority, could no longer suppress the mantra “Dare to know!”
Noblemen began collecting cabinets of curiosities; soon others went from collecting to examining natural objects with fresh eyes. Observation led to experiments; competing conclusions triggered debates. The foundations for the natural sciences were laid as questions became more multifaceted and answers became more complex. Carl Linneaus developed a classification system and sent students around the globe looking for specimens. Museums, botanical gardens, and philosophical societies turned their attention to nature. National governments undertook explorations of the Pacific.
Eminent historian Joyce Appleby vividly recounts the explorers’ triumphs and mishaps, including Magellan’s violent death in the Philippines; the miserable trek of the “new Argonauts” across the Andes on their mission to determine the true shape of the earth; and how two brilliant scientists, Alexander Humboldt and Charles Darwin, traveled to the Americas for evidence to confirm their hypotheses about the earth and its inhabitants. Drawing on detailed eyewitness accounts, Appleby also tells of the turmoil created in the all societies touched by the explorations.
This sweeping, global story imbues the Age of Discovery with fresh meaning, elegantly charting its stimulation of the natural sciences, which ultimately propelled Western Europe toward modernity.
A social historian explores the "intellectual consequences" of the expeditions of Christopher Columbus, which "nudg[ed] Europeans toward modern ways of thinking about their planet." Appleby (History, Emeritus/UCLA; The Relentless Revolution: A History of Capitalism, 2010, etc.) makes the assertion that "the most significant consequence of the age of discovery is the awakening of curiosity among Europeans about the world in which they lived." Not only was the geography of the known world stretched to include North and South America, but the biblical narrative of the Creation and God's purpose were also challenged. Thinkers raised the question of whether or not the Creation was a one-time event, considering the existence of human civilization in far-flung places. Some Christian missionaries condemned the brutality practiced by conquistadors, and Paul III issued a papal bull prohibiting the forced enslavement of native populations. Unfortunately, the argument became moot when millions of Native Americans were killed by European diseases and African slaves were forced by their European conquerors to work on plantations and gold mines. On the positive side, the widening of European horizons spurred intellectual curiosity, as well as the expanded knowledge needed to circumnavigate the globe--e.g., mapmaking, measuring the circumference of the Earth, astronomical knowledge and the determination of longitude. In fact, the attitude toward knowledge itself changed. "A passion for collecting information through observations, measurements, descriptions, and depictions of new phenomena grew stronger," writes the author, replacing the scholarly focus on received wisdom. Appleby points out that in the beginning of the 17th century, Italian friar Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake when he challenged received wisdom, but by its end, "Newton laid the foundation for modern physical science." A quick traverse over time leads the author to Darwin and the conclusion that Columbus' discovery hastened the tempo of intellectual discovery. "Over the course of four centuries," she writes, "studying natural phenomena became an activity defining western modernity while loosening the hold of religious dogma over scientific inquiry." Entertaining popular history.
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Meet the Author
Joyce Appleby (1929—2016) was a professor of history emerita at UCLA and the author of The Relentless Revolution: A History of Capitalism and coauthor of Telling the Truth about History, among many other works. A former president of the American History Association, she was awarded the 2009 Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. Prize for distinguished writing in American history from the Society of American Historians.
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After seeing the author on Bill Moyers, I had to buy this book. She does not disappoint. Her insightful, intelligent analysis and excellent writing have made reading this book a pleasure. I don't usually read nonfiction, but this book has inspired me. I learned a great deal about imagination and daring in this book. Dr Appleby covers all the bases. I especially liked her inclusive style. Get this book. You will be pleasantly surprised. SarahfromYonkers