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A Centaur in London

Reading and Observation in Early Modern Science

Fabian Kraemer

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A nuanced reframing of the dual importance of reading and observation for early modern naturalists.

Historians of science traditionally argue that the sciences were born in early modern Europe during the so-called scientific revolution. At the heart of this narrative lays a supposed shift from the knowledge of books to the knowledge of things. The attitude of the new-style intellectual broke with the text-based practices of erudition and instead cultivated the new empiricism of observation and experiment. Instead of blindly trusting the authority of ancient sources such as Pliny and Aristotle…

A nuanced reframing of the dual importance of reading and observation for early modern naturalists.

Historians of science traditionally argue that the sciences were born in early modern Europe during the so-called scientific revolution. At the heart of this narrative lays a supposed shift from the knowledge of books to the knowledge of things. The attitude of the new-style intellectual broke with the text-based practices of erudition and instead cultivated the new empiricism of observation and experiment. Instead of blindly trusting the authority of ancient sources such as Pliny and Aristotle, practitioners of the new experimental philosophy insisted upon experiential proof.

In A Centaur in London, Fabian Kraemer calls a key tenet of this master narrative into question—that the rise of empiricism entailed a decrease in the importance of reading practices. Kraemer shows instead that the early practices of textual erudition and observational empiricism were by no means so remote from one another as the traditional narrative would suggest. Kraemer argues that reading books and reading the book of nature had a great deal in common—indeed, that reading texts was its own kind of observation. Especially in the case of rare and unusual phenomena like monsters, naturalists were dependent on the written reports of others who had experienced the good luck to be at the right place at the right time. The connections between compiling examples from texts and from observation were especially close in such cases.

A Centaur in London combines the history of scholarly reading with the history of scientific observation to argue for the sustained importance of both throughout the Renaissance and provides a nuanced, textured portrait of early modern naturalists at work.

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A Centaur in London

Fabian Kraemer

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Reviews

Fabian Kraemer's sharp-eyed study offers a new answer to an old problem in the history of science: why did European naturalists in the space of less than fifty years go from collecting reports of monsters to denying the bare possibility of centaurs, dragons, and other monstrous species? His careful attention to how text factoids circulated in the first media of print is rich in potential lessons for our digital age.

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Book Details

Release Date
Publication Date
Status
Preorder
Trim Size
6
x
9
Pages
368
ISBN
9781421446318
Illustration Description
28 b&w photos
Table of Contents

List of Figures
Introduction
1. Three Monstrous Factoids
2. Ulisse Aldrovandi's Twofold Pandechion: Collecting Knowledge about Monsters
3. Observing Correctly: On the Ambivalent Relationship of the

List of Figures
Introduction
1. Three Monstrous Factoids
2. Ulisse Aldrovandi's Twofold Pandechion: Collecting Knowledge about Monsters
3. Observing Correctly: On the Ambivalent Relationship of the Academia Naturae Curiosorum to Monsters
4. A Centaur in London II
Conclusion
Acknowledgments
References
Notes
Index

Author Bio
Featured Contributor

Fabian Kraemer

Fabian Kraemer (BERLIN, DE) teaches the history of science and the humanities at LMU Munich. He is the author of Ein Zentaur in London.