The Scientific Revolution of the 17th Century

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When looking at how science of the early modern period provided foundations for, and gave rise to modern science, many historians turn to the Scientific Revolution of the 17th century. However, a major problem with many writings about historical science is that they have a tendency to divide historical figures into 'good guys' fighting for truth, and 'bad guys' who opposed these truths as a result of ignorance or bias. This kind of writing is known as Whiggish histories of science.

Whig history is described by both Schuster (2010, p. 15) and Henry (2002, p. 3) as a way of explaining and evaluating the past in terms of viewpoints that are accepted in the present. A whig historian is said to distort the reality of ideas and viewpoints proposed by people in the past, by taking them out of their own historical context where the ideas made sense, and instead "imposes present values upon the past" (Schuster 2010, p.15). As a result, historical figures are recreated "in terms of what strikes a 19th century Whig historian as good or bad" (Schuster 2010, p.16). Schuster also makes it very clear that this isn't how history should be understood as it's then distorted from the beginning and explains present beliefs but doesn't explain "how history is made by the actions and beliefs of people in the past" (Schuster 2010, p. 17). An example provided by Schuster (2010, p. 16) of a Whiggish history is that of Nicholas Copernicus who was the first modern European to say that the earth revolves around the sun. As Copernicus' statement reflects what is true in modern science, Copernicus is therefore a 'good guy', and others who opposed him must have been religiously or politically biased 'bad guys'. However, Copernicus had little in common with present beliefs around astronomy, for example, he believed the sun was the centre of the universe and there were no other solar systems. When Copernicus' ideas and values are viewed in context with his own culture, rather than in a...
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