NATS 1775 Lecture 4: UNIT 4

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4 Feb 2016
UNIT 4: Technology In the Renaissance and Early Modern Period
I. Science and Technology in the Renaissance
Term Renaissance signals a “rebirth”; in part due to interest in newly recovered
classical texts – humanists
many texts recovered after fall of Constantinople to Turkish army in 1453; transferred
to Italy and retranslated in Latin from Arabic
Era associated with travel, adventure and navigation
increased use of military technology results requires lots of money: increased
taxation, wealth
leads to formation of new nation-states that can afford to engage in such enterprises
(i.e. France emerges as state in 15th century)
Rise of nation states linked to costs associated with producing technologies (i.e.
gunpowder), building and maintaining armies
II. Changing Attitudes towards Natural Philosophy (Science)
During this time, natural philosophers were beginning to move away from the idea of
“knowledge for knowledge sake” and studying the universe for theological purposes
Instead, there was an increased interest in using studies in natural philosophy to
gain individual wealth, status and power
Another change during this time is the transition from natural philosophy to what we
call “modern science” today
This occurs as studying the natural world starts to focus on experimenting with
nature and an increased role in the use of mathematics
Rise of mechanical philosophy is also another development in the road to modern
III. Changing Attitudes towards technology
Like we see with science, engineers and artisans increasingly start to use technical
knowledge as a way of gaining wealth, power and status
During Renaissance, also start to see higher status for role of engineer and therefore
more positive attitudes toward technology
Part of the reason for this was the increased patronage (or sponsorship) of
engineers by the Royal Courts of Europe (see Misa chapter)
Royals courts supported and sponsored many technological enterprises; nowhere
was this more evident than in Italy
Example: Medici family dynasty in Italy in the 15th and 16th centuries sponsored many
technical projects
Did not do so for commercial or industrial reasons; technical projects revolved
around warfare, city-building, entertainment and “showing off” power and wealth
status of engineers in these courts increases with new political and military projects
Court patronage necessary for “Renaissance men” like Leonardo da Vinci and
Galileo Galilei; courts provided vast resources, access to figures in power
Different from standard theological considerations and attaining salvation
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Another important development was creation of linear (geometrical) perspective:
three dimensional images onto two dimensional canvas is new method of drawing and
painting images
Leon Alberti (1404-1472) known as “father of perspective”: while he did not invent
linear perspective, did help to perfect the art by providing a structured theory for artists
learning the technique
This new art form will change how technical drawings were done and add dimension
and perspective to art
Prior to this time, images in artwork were often according to the status and wealth of
an individual – rich people were thus “bigger” than those who came from a lower socio-
economic status
Linear perspective thus leads to an entirely new way of drawing both people and
images (See images below for comparison)
IV. The Changing Relationship Between Science and Technology
Up until now, there was very little connection between those who practiced natural
philosophy and artisans and craftspeople
This starts to change during Renaissance period
Why? Part of the reason can by found in the article by Sungook Hong called
“Historiographical Layers in the Relationship between Science and Technology”
Hong provides us with three reasons why the Renaissance age represents a turning
point in this story. His reasons include:
1. Increased use of experiments in scientific practice
Prior to the Renaissance, natural philosophers had tended to shy away from
experimenting with nature
This in large part was due to the influence of Aristotle
At this point, Aristotle’s influence was beginning to wane and natural philosophers
were starting to see the benefits of engaging in experimentation
What do you require for experiments? Instruments or tools – otherwise known as
As a result, more scientists starting to value instruments for their research
Examples: telescope or microscope
2. New social spaces
Think of social spaces as places where people from different disciplines could come
together and share their knowledge and ideas with each other
This increasingly will include both natural philosophers and engineers
Examples of social spaces in the Renaissance: pubs, coffeehouses, salons
3. Hybrid humans
Hybrid human is simply a reference to individuals who had an interest in both natural
philosophy and the technical arts
Prior to this time, hybrid humans few and far between
Good examples: Da Vinci and Galileo (see below)
A. Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)
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Da Vinci’s life is excellent example of the changing attitudes/relationship between
science and technology during this time – see if you can make connections
little is known about da Vinci’s early life - illegitimate son, raised by grandparents
at age of 14 he began ten year apprenticeship with Andrea del Verrocchio who was
sculptor and painter
learned about mathematics, architecture, painting, sculpture; during his time with
Verrocchio helped with construction of Florence cathedral
Da Vinci had perfected technique of three dimensional drawing: used this skill to
recreate and produce images of many technical machines in his notebooks and was greatly
influenced by Alberti
Da Vinci established his own career by accepting an assignment from the Medici
family; worked as engineer for powerful Sforza family for ten years
Highlighted importance of his engineering designs for both military and civilian
purposes but emphasized the importance of his designs for war
Notebooks have many images of gunpowder weapons, firearms, crossbows,
cannons, bridges, chariots with rotating daggers, etc…
Re-creations versus new inventions like submarines and airplanes (i.e.
“technological dreams”)
Da Vinci also created many new mechanisms for courtly entertainment; had
fascination for “automata”
After Sforza family is ousted by French in 1499; traveled Italy and worked as military
engineer for hire
At beginning of 16th century da Vinci returns to Florence and works on several
projects; at this time also begins anatomical studies
Eventually returns to Rome and accepts patronage of Medici family until death of
Giuliano de Medici
Last years of life spent in French royal court doing painting, engineering,
architecture, philosophy
As both an engineer and natural philosopher, da Vinci represents new type of
individual who was familiar with both fields of study
Investigation of scientific problems via experimentation
B. Galileo Galilei (1564-1642)
Galileo another excellent example of hybrid human, someone who used instruments
in scientific practice, one who relied on the royal courts for patronage, and someone who
wanted status, power and wealth from his research
Started as a professor at Padua university, had wide range of interests
relied heavily on court patronage of Medici family
interest in experiment, observation, measurement and design
created and built own telescope (original inventor of telephone an unknown
used his telescope in support of the Copernican system which was the idea that the
sun was at the center of the universe
prior to this, common belief was that the earth was at the center of the universe
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