Science in the Spanish and Portuguese Empires, 1500-1800

By Daniela Bleichmar; Paula De Vos et al. | Go to book overview

Afterword

NOBLE DAVID COOK AND ALEXANDRA PARMA COOK

The contributors to this volume have convincingly demonstrated that the rise of European science in the early modern era is not solely the result of the figures working north of the Pyrenees: Copernicus, Linnaeus, Bacon, Harvey, Descartes, or the Italians Galileo or Da Vinci and other similar pioneers. Rather, events in the north leading to the so-called scientific revolution were precipitated and nurtured by a series of major probings and discoveries in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries that were moving most markedly in the Iberian Peninsula. Already in 1963, John H. Parry pointed out the key characteristics of these developments in his stimulating study of the “age of reconnaissance.”1 In Spain and Portugal, the very foundations of mathematics and astronomy that were key elements in the early stages of the scientific revolution were arguably the most advanced of Europe in the fifteenth century. The Arabic system of numbering was the system most practiced in Iberia, rather than the Roman system still widely used in continental Europe at the time, the consequence of seven centuries of much of the peninsula being under the domination of Islam. And it would be to Islamic centers of learning, such as Cordoba, that medieval north European students of science and medicine would travel to study. Exposed to Jewish and Islamic scholarly works as well as preserved translations of some of the great Hellenistic philosophers, geographers, astronomers, and physicians, these centers played an important role in the dissemination of scientific knowledge. Even with the Christian “Reconquista” of the peninsula reaching a critical stage in the midthirteenth century, the transfer of knowledge continued apace.

The authors of all the chapters build from the foundation set by the navigators, traders, fishermen, and spreaders of the “word”—the sponsors, from slavers to princes, of the mid-fifteenth century. All of the

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