Sidoli, Nathan Camillo
Fall, 2022
Office hours: Thursday, 4th and 5th

SILS, 11-1409
[email protected]


I will put announcements about the class in this space. Please check here periodically as the term progresses.

Seminar on Matter and Information:
History of Science - Early Modern Period

Course Description

Science studies covers a broad range of topics in the history, philosophy and sociology of the sciences wherever and whenever they have been practiced. Because of this scope, there is great diversity in the styles of scholarship practiced and the views about science put forward by scholars in the field. For these reasons, this seminar will be based around a particular theme each term.

In the 2022 Fall Term, we will be studying the History of Science in the Early Modern Period. We will read a number of primary and secondary sources from the 15th through the 17th centuries, focusing particularly on the social and intellectual contexts of some of the more famous figuers of this time.

Students are expected to do all of the readings, participate actively in classroom discussions, and write a final paper.

Required Texts

A number of papers and book chapters will be available for download from this site.


Participation 50%
Final paper 50%

General Format

The class meets once a week for a seminar discussion. Attendance and participation in class are mandatory and graded. Each week, we will discuss a chapter or two from the text, and other topics of interest. Students are expected to do all the readings, participate actively in the discussions, submit a final paper and give an in class presentation on its contents.

Final Paper

Writing project, 3,000-5,000 words.

This term the writing project will be a history paper. This means that you need to learn a lot about a historical topic and tell a story about it. Ideally, you should pick your topic early and do a lot of reading. You should come up with your own idea for a final project that is based on the work we are studying. The best kind of project will be on a subject in which you are personally interested.

The project will be done in three phases: (1) a topic proposal and preliminary bibliography, (2) an annotated bibliography (3) a final paper.

  • (1) Start thinking about possible topics right away. Once you have selected a topic, you should write up a short description of the story you will tell, which should be followed by a short bibliography (two or three items).
  • (2) You should begin to read your sources and take notes on them. Make a bibliographic list of at least ten sources, with a short blurb on each one.
  • (3) Based on all this reading, write up your account of the historical events.
  • Please also read the general guidelines for written assignments.

    Discussion Topics, Readings and Assignments

    As you read through the readings, you should ask yourself the following questions:

      1. What is the overall point that the author is trying to make?
      2. What is the author’s argument? What evidence does the author use? What are the strong points of the argument, the weak points?
      3. Is the argument convincing? Why, or why not?
      4. Why would the author make this kind of argument? What is the broader context in which this is interesting?
    Week 1: Oct 4

    General Introduction

  • No reading.
  • Week 2: Oct 11

    The humanists

  • Reading: Rossi, P., The Birth of Modern Science, “The Unseen World”; Grafton, A., Defenders of the Text, “Renaissance Readers and Ancient Texts”.
  • Week 3: Oct 18


  • Reading: Rossi, P., The Birth of Modern Science, “Secrets”; Eamon, W., Science and the Secrets of Nature, “Natural Magic and the Secrets of Nature”.
  • Week 4: Oct 25

    Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, known as Paracelsus

  • Reading: Debus, A.G., Man and Nature in the Renaissance, “Tradition amd Reform,” and “The Chemical Key”. Source: Paracelsus, excerpt from Paracelsus’s alchemical writings.
  • Week 5: Nov 1

    John Dee

  • Reading: Johnston, S., “Like Father, Like Son?”. Source: Dee, an excerpt from Dee’s preface to Euclid's Elements. (This is an original source in 16th century English. It is difficult to read, so please just try to read carefully through page 12 (“Both, number...”, bottom of the page) to 16 (“I will not be unreasonable”).)
  • Week 6: Nov 8

    Giordano Bruno

  • Reading: Spruit, L., “Giordano Bruno and Astrology”. Source: Bruno, excerpt from The Ash Wednesday Supper, “Third Dialog”.
  • Week 7: Nov 15

    Francis Bacon

  • Reading: Rossi, P., Francis Bacon From Magic to Science, “The Mechanical Arts, Magic, and Science”. Source: Bacon, excerpt from Bacon’s New Organ (or Instrument).
  • Week 8: Nov 22

    Galileo di Vincenzo Bonaiuti de’ Galilei

  • Reading: Rossi, P., The Birth of Modern Science, “Galileo”. Source: Galileo, “The Starry Messenger.”
  • Week 9: Nov 29

    William Harvey

  • Reading: Debus, A.G., Man and Nature in the Renaissance, “The Study of Man”. Source: Harvey, excerpts from his On The Movement of the Heart and Blood.
  • Week 10: Dec 6

    Johannes Kepler

  • Reading: Boner, Kepler’s Cosmological Synthesis, “Kepler’s Early Career in Astrology”. Source: Kepler, Harmony of the World, Book IV, Chapter 5 (On astrological aspects).
  • Week 11: Dec 13

    Isaac Newton

  • Reading: White, M., Isaac Newton: The Last Sorcerer, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”. Source: Newton, two of his unpublished treatises on the alchemy of vegetation.
  • Week 12: Dec 20

    Early modern science in China

  • Reading: Elman, B.L., On Their Own Terms: Science in China, 1550-1900, “Chaps. 1 and 2 (the reading is very long, so please concentrate on chap. 2).
  • Holiday: Dec 27

    No Class

  • No Reading.
  • Holiday: Jan 3

    No Class

  • No Reading.
  • Week 13: Jan 10

    Early modern science in Japan

  • Reading: Hiraoka R., “Jesuits, Cosmology and Creation in Japan’s ‘Christian Century’”. Source: Pedro Gomez, De sphaera: please read the introductions and scan through some of the text and translation in the following papers by Hiraoka and Hiraoka and Watanabe, Part 1 and Part 2.
  • Supplementary Reading: Yoshida T., “A Japanese Reaction to Aristotelian Cosmology”.
  • Week 14: Jan 17

    Controversies on the rise of early modern science

  • Reading: Review of Tuff’s The Rise of Early Modern Science (1993), by G. Saliba; Tuff’s response to the review; and Saliba’s response to Tuff.
  • Supplementary Reading: Please look over copies of the two books by T.E. Huff, The Rise of Early Modern Science (1993) and Intellectual Curiosity and the Scientific Revolution (2011) and the book The Dialogue of Civilizations in the Birth of Modern Science (2006) by A. Bala. Also look for scholarly reviews of these books.
  • Week 15: Jan 24 (Paper due)


  • No reading