Negotiating Knowledge in the 13-19th Centuries: From Scholasticism to the Rise of Modern Disciplines

Course Status: 
CEU credits: 
Course Year: 
Academic year: 
Start and end dates: 
3 Dec 2012
Co-hosting Unit(s) [if applicable]: 
Department of History
Marcell Sebők
László Kontler

Course description
The course is an overview of major themes of six centuries of important transformations in European science. In traditional approaches to the subject, the "rise of modern science" tended to be discussed in terms of the contribution of this process to “modernity” through the incremental but steady growth of the rationalist and empiricist epistemological foundations of scientific thinking, and the professionalism associated with the pursuit of knowledge. Relying on relatively recent developments in the investigation of the field, the course will confront the   paradigm of scholasticism-humanism-empiricism-rationalism. While scientific ideas and the debates on their substance among contemporaries are important, our main focus will be the practices of scientific knowledge production in and across socio-cultural spaces: as the term “negotiating” in the title indicates, scientific knowledge and its status is not to be taken for granted as an entity developing according to its own logic, but is at all times shaped under a great many factors and influences originating from outside its own proper domain. Such factors include the material aspects of knowledge: objects that are being collected and “ordered”, as well as the physical spaces or “sites” where this activity is carried out (cabinets, libraries, museums, universities, academies). Further, they include the changing criteria for validating or authenticating new knowledge, and the associated ideas about the ethos of science. Special attention will be devoted to the networks for the creation and circulation of knowledge and the processes of scientific “brokerage”, in which – again – extra-scientific motives and agendas of emulation, competition and collaboration played an important role. As these latter processes were to a considerable extent defined by aspirations and interest of governance and bureaucracy, business and religious mission, the themes of political contest, geographic discovery and imperial-colonial expansion, together with knowledge as arising in the “hybrid”, “frontier” or “contact” zones where these took place, will be inevitably discussed. Through an exploration of each of these clusters of topics, the course thus offers a new look at questions of power and possession, patronage and promotion by examining institutionalized and individual efforts.

Learning outcomes
The course develops a comprehensive and critical understanding of the differentials of knowledge production in regional and global contexts over a long period crucial to the establishment of the importance of such differentials. It provides familiarity with current research in the field, elaborating a range of historical and interdisciplinary approaches

Each participant will be required to give at least one “position paper” (a c. 15 minute statement proposing issues to be discussed in the particular class meeting as gleaned from the weekly readings), to contribute actively to class discussion, and to write a 3,000-4,000 word seminar paper. The topic for the seminar paper must be developed, in consultation with the instructors, by Week 10, and submitted two weeks after the end of the term at the latest. The grade will emerge from the combination of the position paper (10%), class activity (40%) and the seminar paper (50%).


Weekly schedule

Weeks 1-2

Block I: Paradigms of interpreting knowledge historically (historiographical approaches)

-         “scholasticism” and “renaissance”
-         “scientific revolution” and “Enlightenment”

Mandatory reading

Francis Bacon, The Advancement of Learning. Ed. Arthur Johnston Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974, 5-16, 54-59.

Peter Burke. A Social History of Knowledge: from Gutenberg to Diderot. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2000, 1-52.

Peter Dear, Revolutionizing the Sciences: European Knowledge and Its Ambitions, 1500-1700. London: Palgrave, 2001, 1-48.

Erika Rummel, The Humanist-Scholastic Debate in the Renaissance and Reformation. Cambridge, MA – London: Harvard University Press, 1995, 1-40.

Steven Shapin, The Scientific Revolution. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996. 1-14, 119-165.

William Clark, Jan Golinski and Simon Schaffer, „Introduction”, in William Clark, Jan Golinski and Simon Schaffer (eds.), The Sciences in Enlightened Europe. The University of Chicago Press, 1999, 3-31.


H. Floris Cohen, The Scientific Revolution. A Historiographical Inquiry. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1994.

Roy Porter, “The Scientific Revolution and Universities,” in A History of the University in Europe, Vol II. Universities in Early Modern Europe (1500-1800). Ed. Hilde de Ridder-Symoens. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996, 531-562.

Roy Porter – Mikulas Teich, eds., The Scientific Revolution in National Context. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.


Weeks 3-4

Block II: The materiality of knowledge

-         objects: collecting and collections
-         sites: universities, academies, laboratories

Mandatory reading

Paula Findlen, Possessing Nature: Museums, Collecting, and Scientific Culture in Early Modern Italy. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994, 96-150.

A History of the University in Europe, Vol I. Universities in the Middle Ages. Ed. Hilde de Ridder-Symoens. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992, Part IV. Learning.

Emma Spary, Utopia’s Garden. French Natural History from Old Regime to Revolution. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2000, 15-48.

M. Frasca-Spada and N. Jardine eds, Books and the Sciences in History, Cambridge, CUP, 2000, 1-12, 190-226, 225-238.


Mary W. Helms, “Essay on objects: Interpretations of distance made tangible”, in Stuart B. Schwartz (ed.), Implicit Understanding. Observing, Reporting, and Reflecting on the Encounters between Europeans and Other Peoples in the Early Modern Era. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994, 355-377.

Bruce T. Moran, Distilling Knowledge: Alchemy, Chemistry and the Scientific Revolution. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2005, 99-156.

William Eamon, “Knowledge and Power,” in Eamon, Science and the Secrets of Nature. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994, 38-90.

Simon Werrett, “The Schumacher Affair: Reconfiguring Academic Expertise across Dynasties in Eighteenth-Century Russia”, in Eric H. Ash, ed., Expertise. Practical Knowledge and the Early Modern State = Osiris, vol. 25 (2010): 104-125.

Weeks 5-6

Block III: The organization of knowledge (the transformations of the “map of learning” and the patterns through which knowledge is made accessible)

-         data, fact, system, synthesis
-         fields and disciplines

Mandatory reading

Donald Kelley, ed., History and the Disciplines: the Reclassification of Knowledge in Early Modern Europe. Rochester, N.Y.: University of Rochester Press, 1997, 13-28, 29-40, 239-276.

Ann Blair – Anthony Grafton, eds., Transmission of Culture in Early Modern Europe. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1990, 1-86.

Richard Yeo, Encyclopaedic Visions: Scientific Dictionaries and Enlightenment Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001, 1-32.

Dániel Margócsy, “’Refer to folio and number’: Encyclopedias, the Exchange of Curiosities, and Practices of Identification before Linnaeus”, Journal of the History of Ideas, 71:1 (January 2010): 63-89. JSTOR URL:


Jean Le Rond D’Alembert, Preliminary Discourse to the Encyclopedia of Diderot. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1986, 60-105.

Denis Diderot, „Encyclopedia”, article from the Encyclopédie, in Political Writings. Cambridge University Press, 1992, 21-27.

Martin Gierl, “Compilation and the Production of Knowledge in the Early German Enlightenment”, in Hans Erich Bödeker, Peter Hanns Reill and Jürgen Schlumbohm (eds.), Wissenschaft als kulturelle Praxis 1750-1900. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1999, 69-103.

Jeff Loveland, “Unifying Knowledge and Dividing Disciplines: The Development of Treatises in the Encyclopedia Britannica,” Book History, vol. 9 (2006), 58-87.

Lisa Jardine – Anthony Grafton. “Pragmatic Humanism,” in Jardine-Grafton, From Humanism to Humanities.

Sachiko Kusukawa – Ian Maclean, eds., Transmitting Knowledge: Words, Images and Instruments in Early Modern Europe. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006, 73-96, 193-216.


Weeks 7-8

Block IV: Ethos and authority in knowledge production (changing notions of the legitimate aims and acceptable types of conduct in cultivating knowledge; grounds for accepting knowledge as “valid” or “true”)

-         the purposes of doing science
-         verification and authentication

Mandatory reading

Stephen Shapin, A Social History of Truth. Civility and Science in Seventeenth-Century England. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1994,

Neil Safier, Measuring the New World. Enlightenment, Science and South America. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2008, 57-93.

Michael T. Bravo, “Precision and Curiosity in Scientific Travel: James Rennell and the Orientalist Geography of the New Imperial Sage (1760-1830)”, in Jas Elsner and Joao-Paul Rubiés (eds.), Voyages and Visions. Towards a Cultural History of Travel. London: Reaktion Books, 1999, 162-183, 310-313 (notes).

Timothy Lenoir and Cheryl Lynn Ross, “The Naturalized History Museum”, in Peter Galison and David J. Stump (eds.), The Disunity of Science. Boundaries, Contexts, and Power. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996, 370-397.


Amos Funkenstein, Theology and the Scientific Imagination from the Middle Ages to the Seventeenth Century. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986, 3-22.

Stephen Toulmin. Cosmopolis. The Hidden Agenda of Modernity. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992, 5-44.

Lorraine Daston, „Afterword: The Ethos of Enlightenment,” in William Clark, Jan Golinski and Simon Schaffer (eds.), The Sciences in Enlightened Europe. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1999), 495-504.


Weeks 9-10

Block V: Agency and agenda in knowledge production (social actors and their motivations in contributing to science – similar to Block III but the angle is different)

-         patronage and representation: courts, princes etc.
-         power and gain: bureaucrats, merchants, missionaries

Mandatory reading

Mario Biagioli, Galileo, Courtier. The Practice of Science in the Culture of Absolutism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993, Prologue and Ch.1.

Steven J. Harris, “Confession-Building, Long-Distance Networks, and the organization of Jesuit Science,” Early Science and Medicine. A Journal for the Study of Science, Technology and Medicine in the Pre-Modern Period, vol. 1, nr. 3 (1996), 287-318.

Kapil Raj, Relocating Modern Science. Circulation and the Construction of Scientific Knowledge in South Asia and Europe. Oxford: Permanent Black, 2006, 2-26, 29-58.

Harold Cook, Matters of Exchange. Commerce, Medicine, and Science in the Dutch Golden Age. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007, 339-377 and 458-471.


Pamela H. Smith – Benjamin Schmidt, eds., Making Knowledge in Early Modern Europe. Practices, Objects, and Texts, 1400-1800. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007, 199-232.

James Delbourgo and Nicholas Dew (eds.), Science and Empire in the Atlantic World. New York and London: Routledge, 2008.

Lisbet Koerner,  Linnaeus. Nature and Nation. Cambridge, Mass. And London: Harvard University Press, 1999, 95-139.


Weeks 11-12

Block VI: Knowledge in spaces

-         learned communication (republic of letters, correspondence, print culture)
-         the geography of knowledge: center and periphery, travel and expedition


Mandatory reading

Anthony Grafton, Worlds Made by Words: Scholarship and Community in the Modern West. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2009, 9-34, 114-136.
Peter Burke, A Social History of Knowledge. From Gutenberg to Diderot. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2000, 53-115.

Harry Liebersohn, The Traveler’s World. Europe to the Pacific. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2006, 1-20.
Sverker Sörlin, “Ordering the World for Europe: Science As Intelligence and Information As Seen from the Northern Periphery”, in MacLeod (ed.), Nature and Empire. Science and the Colonial Enterprise = Osiris, vol. 15 (2000): 51-69. JSTOR URL:


David N. Livingstone, “Knowledge, space and the geographies of science”, in idem., Science, space and hermeneutics (Department of Geography, University of Heidelberg), 7-40.
Michael Carhart, “Polynesia and polygenism: the scientific use of travel literature in the early 19th century,” History of the Human Sciences, 22:2 (2009): 58-86., online at