“Science. Not Just For Scientists. A Historiographical Analysis of the Changing Interpretations of the Scientific Revolution”

Aaron Gasparik

Abstract


Traditionally, the Scientific Revolution has been portrayed as an era in history when new developments in fields of ‘scientific’ thought eclipsed the long-held notions presented by religion and philosophy. Historical interpretations subscribing to this view have often presented the Scientific Revolution as a time when significant changes occurred in the way societies understood their world. These historical analyses have focused on a limited suite of ideas – the iconic figures of the Scientific Revolution, the intellectual, methodological and theoretical developments of the era and the shift away from antiquated worldviews. Owing to the decidedly intellectual foci of these investigations, the Scientific Revolution, and the influential figures therein, are depicted as the impetus for modern thought and society as we know it today. However, in recent decades, historical studies of the Scientific Revolution have shifted away from investigations emphasizing the supposedly progressive nature of the era and have chosen to observe aspects of the historical period that are significantly more cultural in tone. For instance, aspects such as the economic impacts of intellectual developments, the self-fashioning practiced by figures during the period and the importance of cultivating various social relationships are observed in order to provide a richer, more socially contextualized presentation of the Scientific Revolution. This paper will compare two modes of historical investigation – Intellectual and Cultural Historical, examine the changes that have occurred in historical interpretations of the Scientific Revolution and illustrate the motivations that have guided these two distinct approaches to history. This historiographical analysis will show how portrayals of the Scientific Revolution have changed over time and developed from something decidedly intellectual in focus, into a much more nuanced, culturally focused form of scholarship.

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