Renaissance Cosmography in the Era of Discovery

in Secret Science

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print June 2009 | ISBN: 9780226675343
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226675374 | DOI:
Renaissance Cosmography in the Era of Discovery

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This chapter traces the intellectual history of cosmography, from its classical origins as exemplified by Ptolemy's Geography and until, when reinvented during the fifteenth century as a humanistic discipline, it became part of the arts faculty of early modern universities. A close examination of the curriculum at Spanish universities illustrates the epistemic and methodological approaches that were in use at the moment of the discovery of the New World and which were later employed as cosmographers began to assimilate the new geographical knowledge into this humanistic discipline. After mapping the intellectual boundaries of Renaissance cosmography and how it responded initially to the discovery of the New World, the chapter turns to an aspect that defined cosmographical practice in Spain: navigation. Under the conceptual umbrella of cosmography, the mathematical rationalism inherent in the Ptolemaic conception of space found its expression in the navigation manual, a new genre that promised readers a happy marriage of theory and practice. By the mid-sixteenth century, cosmographical practitioners in Spain straddled the difficult divide between ideal practice as taught at the universities and the demands of applying scientific theory to what had traditionally been the craft of piloting a ship. This and other tensions strained Renaissance cosmography, so that by the mid-sixteenth century the discipline was poised to undergo a significant reorientation.

Keywords: Ptolemy; Spanish universities; New World; cosmographers; navigation; mathematical rationalism

Chapter.  17050 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of Science and Technology

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