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Request for suggestions - Medieval Science

Request for suggestions - Medieval Science

Postby bruce n h » 02 Jun 2009, 18:24

Hi all,

I apologize for coming to this group as a complete lurker and asking for help. I joined last fall with great intention to become heavily involved, particularly in the book studies, but then got really busy with other things and have not posted in many months. Anyway, I've accepted a faculty position as an organic chemist at Richard Stockton College. They really value the liberal arts tradition, and they strongly encourage their faculty to develop cross-disciplinary courses as part of their general studies program. This can include topics that are not part of our areas of professional expertise. I considered developing a course on Lewis, but I'd feel a little too far afield teaching a course with no relation to my professional expertise (I'm a chemist). So I thought of the Discarded Image, and my interest in medieval history and came up with a proposal for a course on Medieval Science. This way I'll bring in science, history, and also will pull examples from literature and art (drawing heavily, for instance, on the works Lewis cites in the DI). Probably also some theory of knowledge stuff - comparing how science was done then and now. Right now I'm digging through background material to find sources. Anyway, I'd be interested in any suggestions you may have on:
-Modern sources that would be good for me to use as background (e.g. Cahill's Mysteries of the Middle Ages and Lewis' Discarded Image)
-Sources from the medieval era that I might have students read (e.g. Dante's Paradiso, which not only walks through the heavens and describes their view of the planets, but also has several mini essays embedded on topics like the reflection of light and the relation between plants, animals and people)
-Individual scientists I could focus on (Albertus Magnus, Da Vinci, Roger Bacon)
-Specific scientific topics
-Any other ideas

I'll dig through the forum here, particularly the book study on the DI, for some ideas.

Below I have my rough course outline with some ideas sketched in. I'm not teaching this in the fall, so I've got a lot of time to fill in the blanks - maybe spring 2010.
Medieval science

A brief history - from the fall of Rome (476) to the Protestant Reformation (1517)
Scholarship then and now - methods of science, theory of knowledge, history of the great schools(?)
Role of the church
Dark ages?

Go through earth-centered universe, discuss roles of planets
How this model matches observations
Examples of this model in literature – Dante’s Paradiso, for instance
Discussion of the transition to heliocentric model – Galileo

Hmm, not exactly sure where to go with this section

Alchemy vs chemistry
Role of the apothecary
Maybe have them read from Albertus Magnus?

Biology and Medicine
Again, need development in here

Nature of man
Biological and philosophical discussion of man
How does he relate to creation
How does he relate to God
Somewhere in the Pardiso there is a description of this

Military – there have got to be a lot of resources on how different siege engines work, development of explosives, etc
Architecture – good place to look at great cathedrals and other structures, discuss the physics of arches and domes, how they made them – look at the Regius Poem – hmm, this raises the question of whether I should have a separate section on math/geometry/etc
Technology related to daily life – go through the development of a mill, maybe
Other? Chaucer’s Treatise on the Astrolabe – oldest English work on a scientific instrument

How’d it all end?
Transition to the Rennaissance

Anyway, I'd appreciate any suggestions.

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bruce n h
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Re: Request for suggestions - Medieval Science

Postby moogdroog » 02 Jun 2009, 19:28

Hi Bruce, your course sounds really interesting!

I'm studying a PhD in early medieval literature, and I recently did some research on medieval medicine. If it is any help, I can talk to you about Anglo-Saxon ideas of medicine, and the medical/scientific texts we have from that period (early medieval England, specifically, around the ninth to eleventh centuries). Let me know if I can help you out.
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Re: Request for suggestions - Medieval Science

Postby postodave » 02 Jun 2009, 22:43

I don't know much about this but I can recommend a text - apologies if you are already aware of it - Augustine to Galileo by A. C. Crombie subtitled 'Science in the Middle Ages'
We got into some of this on a thread here a while back. Our topic was whether the philosophy of science had changed from medieval to early modern times. I thought yes the other guy thought no. Here's a link:
I seem to have known an awful lot a year ago - I'm younger than that now - I did check out in Crombie what Newton meant when he said 'Hypothesis non fingo'. I was seeing him as an example of an early modern scientist who was advocating a methodology of pure induction; actually it's not that simple. He was not dismissing all use of hypothesis.
Did you ever read Thomas Torrance - 'Space, Time and Incarnation' and 'Space, Time and Resurrection'? He compares the understanding of time and space in the Fathers to that in modern science. Misses out the medieval though.
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Re: Request for suggestions - Medieval Science

Postby Bluegoat » 03 Jun 2009, 12:31

Two things strike me as applicable - what about medieval mathematics, and of course alchemy?

It looks like an interesting course. My little liberal arts college added a History of Science and Technology program about a year after I graduated, and I always wished I could have taken it.
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Re: Request for suggestions - Medieval Science

Postby gameld » 03 Jun 2009, 13:27

i believe that during that time both physics/math and biology were at least heavily based on aristotle. for example, they thought that an object that was thrown would travel through the air in a straight line until it ran out of energy and then fall straight down.
also, you could talk about the four humors in medicine and the idea that everything just constantly sinks to your feet.
sorry, no sources, but a couple of ideas for areas you had blank.
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