Empiricism and Erudition in Early Modern Europe
500 pp., 6 x 9 in, 14 illus.
- Published: September 16, 2005
- Publisher: The MIT Press
Essays examine how the genre of historia reflects connections between the study of nature and the study of culture in early modern scholarly pursuits.
The early modern genre of historia connected the study of nature and the study of culture from the early Renaissance to the eighteenth century. The ubiquity of historia as a descriptive method across a variety of disciplines—including natural history, medicine, antiquarianism, and philology—indicates how closely intertwined these scholarly pursuits were in the early modern period. The essays collected in this volume demonstrate that historia can be considered a key epistemic tool of early modern intellectual practices.
Focusing on the actual use of historia across disciplines, the essays highlight a distinctive feature of early modern descriptive sciences: the coupling of observational skills with philological learning, empiricism with erudition. Thus the essays bring to light previously unexamined links between the culture of humanism and the scientific revolution.
The contributors, from a range of disciplines that echoes the broad scope of early modern historia, examine such topics as the development of a new interest in historical method from the Renaissance artes historicae to the eighteenth-century tension between "history" and "system"; shifts in Aristotelian thought paving the way for revaluation of historia as descriptive knowledge; the rise of the new discipline of natural history; the uses of historia in anatomical and medical investigation and the writing of history by physicians; parallels between the practices of collecting and presenting information in both natural history and antiquarianism; and significant examples of the ease with which early seventeenth-century antiquarian scholars moved from studies of nature to studies of culture.
The meaning of the term historia in the early modern vocabulary of knowledge was so varied and so multilayered that it can be properly understood only when approached from multiple angles. This book brings together scholars from a wide variety of disciplines to explore the term's manifold meanings, revealing a rich and highly textured understanding of historia that is utterly lost to the modern world. With essays ranging from the study of the human past to the meaning of historia in medicine and natural history, it provides a fascinating glimpse into the intellectual world of the late Renaissance.
William Eamon, Regents Professor of History, New Mexico State University
What is history, and where does history stand in relation to other ways of knowing? Ever since Herodotus, answer to such questions have shaped Western culture, especially in the period illuminated by these thoughtful and informative essays. Pomata, Siraisi, and their colleagues are to be congratulated on a volume that reopens these ancient quetions with great insight and effect, showing how indispensable the history of science and medicine is to the larger story of European culture.
Brian Copenhaver, Professor of Philosophy and History, University of California, Los Angeles
While today we may take the importance of 'facts' for granted, a few centuries ago the search for examples of true events and real things (historia), and a reluctance to speculate about causes, helped to create an intellectual revolution in both the natural and the human sciences. Between about 1450 and 1650, getting the details right mattered to just about everyone. A careful search for accurate information lay behind the production of natural histories, case histories, civil and religious histories, and other studies. This collection makes sense of that common enterprise and, in a number of elegant essays, underlines the contemporary importance of being correct. It is a work of significance to all who study the period, the history of ideas, and the history of science and medicine.
Harold J. Cook, The Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine, University College London