Annotating and Indexing Natural Philosophy
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CitationBlair, Ann. "Annotating and Indexing Natural Philosophy." In Books and the Sciences in History, edited by Nicholas Jardine and Marina Frasca-Spada, 69-89. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.
AbstractReading, compiling and commenting on texts long constituted one of the central practices of natural philosophy, from antiquity down to at least the late 17th century. From Pliny to Ulisse Aldrovandi to Johann Jonston, from Aristotle to Roger Bacon to the professors of philosophy in 17th century universities, to do natural philosophy was in large part to gather, sort and critique causal explanations, reports of observations and philosophical opinions proffered by one's predecessors; the texts that were generated in the process would in turn fuel the discussions of future generations of natural philosophers. In the Renaissance this self-perpetuating cycle of textual commentary faced a massive increase in the range and number of relevant books to be read. The humanist program of recovering lost ancient works made available for the first time in a millennium a number of works on natural topics, including those of Dioscorides, Lucretius, Archimedes, among others.i At the same time, travel to the new world as well as to exotic parts of the "old world" yielded new accounts of flora and fauna and human customs. Finally, the new technology of printing made more readily accessible in a wide range of editions, from the bulky editiones principes and opera omnia to vernacular translations or cheap school editions of single works, not only this new material, but also the well-known ancient and medieval authorities still held in high esteem. Printing also fueled the composition of works by an ever-increasing number of modern authors, many of whom would not have had the university or courtly connections to reach any significant diffusion in manuscript.
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