Course: The History of Experiment

HC 431H

Professor: Vera Keller

This course explores the origins of experimental science in early modern Europe (15th to 18th centuries). Science (scientia) once meant knowledge proven by sure reasoning, as distinguished from mere opinion based upon fallible human senses. How then, did the human manipulation and observation of nature come to be regarded as a source of dependable knowledge? We will question the role of art, craft, alchemy, magic, law, travel, collecting, entertainment, the church, and universities in changing practices and epistemologies of natural philosophy. We will engage with recent debates in the historiography of science concerning the relationship between science and locality, society, gender, professionalization, communication and technology. Informed by historiography, we will read primary texts of early modern science and ourselves experiment with early modern laboratory receipts and practices. Drawing on rare books from Special Collections, we will participate in a group project resulting in a collaborative exhibition.