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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 traditionally argue that the sciences were born in early modern Europe during the so-called Scientific Revolution. At the heart of this narrative lies 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 an emerging empiricism of observation and experiment. Rather than blindly trusting the authority of ancient sources such as Pliny and Aristotle\u2026

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

Historians traditionally argue that the sciences were born in early modern Europe during the so-called Scientific Revolution. At the heart of this narrative lies 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 an emerging empiricism of observation and experiment. Rather than blindly trusting the authority of ancient sources such as Pliny and Aristotle, practitioners of this 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. He 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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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 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.

Deftly weaves through two centuries of pan-European scholarship, tracking monsters as they circulated in textual and visual formats. Kraemer's real quarry is the changing relation between observation and reading and what it tells us about large-scale periodizations of the Renaissance, the Scientific Revolution, and the Enlightenment.

An illuminating account of changing intellectual practices in early modern natural history. From Aldrovandi to Haller, this book shows how new ways of observing combined with new ways of reading to create a powerful form of learned empiricism. Challenging conventional stereotypes on the divide between scholarship and empirical observation, the human and the natural sciences, Kraemer offers an important contribution to the history of epistemic cultures.

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Book Details

Release Date
Publication Date
Status
Preorder
Trim Size
6
x
9
Pages
344
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
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Fabian Kraemer

Fabian Kraemer is an assistant professor of the history of science at LMU Munich. He is the author of Ein Zentaur in London.