HoST Fall 2011

Week of 11/8-11/10

Back to HoST Fall 2011 Syllabus

Email me:

Assignment 10

A Scientific Revolution

Picture 3

Vesalius-from De Humani Corporis Fabrica-1543


Updated: 11/7/11 8:35 PM



For Tuesday


-Look at this scale graphic of our solar system.  Scroll through the whole thing. You’ll notice why Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto were not seen by the pre-moderns.

Scale Solar System


Here is another site with the same idea:

Scale Solar System updated


-Read the chapter titled “Copernicus Incited a Revolution” in McClellan and Dorn.  (It is Chapter 11 in newer editions and chapter 10 in older editions.)  Look over this web page and as you read the McClellan and Dorn, follow along with the materials I have posted below. 


-Look over the materials I put at the end of this web page as you read the McClellan and Dorn.  I'm serious.


For Wednesday


-Browse over these parts of Kepler’s Mysterium cosmographicum (1596) – Kepler_MystCosmoExcerptsSm-OCRd-imaged-5.9MB.pdf. Don’t skip the title page and all the fluff.  The fluff is as interesting as the meat of the book. Just poke around this PDF and see if anything grabs your attention.  


-Browse through these excerpts from Vesalius’ De humani corporis fabrica [On the fabric of the human body] from 1543.  Just look over the illustrations and study a few of them closely.



-View this movie: Copernican explanation of the retrograde motion of Mars:


Notice the Homework assignment for Thursday....


For Thursday- Expect a quiz on this material.


Read this selection of things on and by Girolamo Cardano:


…or here is a somewhat smaller, lower resolution version…



-pp. ix-xviii (The “Introduction” by Grafton), just skim this over...

-pp. 5-7 (“My Nativity)

-pp. 20-24 (“Concerning My Health”)

-pp. 91-104 (“Perils, Accidents, and …Treacheries”)


Homework  [Due Thursday- late submissions will be penalized]

Each group must submit to me a project proposal.  Groups may consist of 1 to 3 people.  Write this proposal as if it were a research grant proposal. 


Here is the recipe:

Part 1: Write a short abstract of the project.  It shouldn't be more than a paragraph, but it should be catchy and make me want to read more.

Part 2: Write up an outline of the project as a whole, step by step.  If the project involves multiple people, make it clear what each person will do.  Mention all of the output you intend to produce.  For example, your project might involve a short video, a technical paper, and a historical context paper.  Describe each thing and who will do what.  Feel free to include some pictures or drawings if these might help explain your project.  This part should be at least a page and a half and no more than three pages in length.  Include a section at the end of this part that lists several sources that you intend to use and mention how these sources will help this project.  Describe the finished project, even though you haven't even started it yet.  This is how grant proposals work in the real world.

Part 3: Write up a paragraph on the significance of your project.  What do you hope to learn by doing this project.  At least one goal should be historical in nature, but not all of the goals need to be historical.  This should be a paragraph of two.


Make these proposals look nice and write them carefully.  I will deduct points for typos and grammatical errors.  Pretend that you are submitting them for a NSF [National Science Foundation] grant.  You will not be expected to actually do exactly what you propose.  This is a first draft.  I'll read them over and add comments and you can modify your proposals as you please .. and you can still change your topics, so don't be all freaked out by this proposal.  But if you change your minds, you will have to submit a new proposal and we will have to go through this again, so try to figure out what you want to do. 

Citations for the above readings and audio:


Kepler, Johannes, and E. J. Aiton. The Secret of the Universe (Mysterium Cosmographicum). Translated by A.M. Duncan and with introduction and commentary by E.J. Aiton and a preface by I. Bernard Cohen. New York: Abaris Books, 1981.


McClellan, James E., and Harold Dorn. Science and Technology in World History : An Introduction. Baltimore, Md.: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999.


Vesalius, Andreas, J. B. de C. M. Saunders, and Charles Donald O'Malley. The illustrations from the works of Andreas Vesalius of Brussels; with annotations and translations, a discussion of the plates and their background, authorship and influence, and a biographical sketch of Vesalius. New York,: Dover Publications, 1973.


Cardano, Girolamo, and Anthony Grafton. The Book of My Life  (De Vita Propria Liber). Translated by Tranlated from the Latin by Jean Stoner. New York: New York Review Books, 2002, written in the 1570s.




Essay assignment for this week.


Short Essay Option: Write an approx. 600 word, single-spaced essay (about 1 full page of single-spaced text).



The Long Essay option are not necessary for the rest of the term.


Everybody should read over the following.... It's part of the assignment.


The following are selections from various astronomical texts from this period, usually referred to as the beginning of the Scientific Revolution.

You should look at these as you read the McClellan and Dorn. 




This is a reproduction from the manuscript by Copernicus.

[available here:]

In comparing this with the printed version [below] I notice that the labels are below the circular lines rather than sitting above them as in the printed edition.  Also the sun is just a word and the moon is not shown at all.  Is this significant?  I really don’t know, but this manuscript drawing seems to more clearly imply a finite and contained universe, with the sphere of the fixed stars clearly enclosing the universe, whereas the printed version suggests something outside this sphere.  This is more of an issue with Aristotle, but later theological debates over the size of the universe and the possibility of other worlds might have been exacerbated by the somewhat ambiguous diagram in the printed version.



Here is a page from the first printed edition of 1542/3.


The Latin text above and below this diagram reads as follows.  The exact section shown in the page image above is in blue.


The sphere of the fixed stars is followed by the first of the planets, Saturn, which completes its circuit in 30 years. After Saturn, Jupiter accomplishes its revolution in 12 years. Then Mars revolves in 2 years. The annual revolution takes the series’ fourth place, which contains the earth, as I said [earlier in I, 10], together with the lunar sphere as an epicycle. In the fifth place Venus returns in 9 months. Lastly, the sixth place is held by Mercury, which revolves in a period of 80 days.


[You will note that the numbers on this diagram do not correspond with the text that surrounds this illustration. I have two theories for this. 1) This can be explained by the difference between cardinal and ordinal numbers.  In your first year of life you are not yet one year old. When you are finally one year old you are in your second year of life.  The diagram uses cardinal numbers while the description uses ordinal.  2) In the text Saturn is the first planetary sphere as distinguished from the sphere of fixed stars.  Either way, his presentation is a bit confusing.]


At rest, however, in the middle of everything is the sun. For in this most beautiful temple, who would place this lamp in another or better position than that from which it can light up the whole thing at the same time? For, the sun is not inappropriately called by some people the lantern of the universe, its mind by others, and its ruler by still others. [Hermes] the Thrice Greatest labels it a visible god, and Sophocles’ Electra, the all-seeing. Thus indeed, as though seated on a royal throne, the sun governs the family of planets revolving around it. Moreover, the earth is not deprived of the moon’s attendance. On the contrary, as Aristotle says in a work on animals [De anima? On the Soul?], the moon has the closest kinship with the earth. Meanwhile the earth has intercourse with the sun, and is impregnated for its yearly parturition.


[The earth has “intercourse with the sun and is impregnated.”  That’s an interesting description.]


In this arrangement, therefore, we discover a marvelous symmetry of the universe, and an established harmonious linkage between the motion of the spheres  and their size, such as can be found in no other way. For this permits a not inattentive student to perceive why the forward and backward arcs appear greater in Jupiter than in Saturn and smaller than in Mars, and on the other hand greater in Venus than in Mercury. This reversal in direction appears more frequently in Saturn than in Jupiter, and also more rarely in Mars and Venus than in Mercury. Moreover, when Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars rise at sunset, they are nearer to the earth than when they set in the evening or appear at a later hour. But Mars in particular, when it shines all night, seems to equal Jupiter in size, being distinguished only by its reddish color. Yet in the other configurations it is found barely among the stars of the second magnitude, being recognized by those who track it with assiduous observations. All these phenomena proceed from the same cause, which is in the earth’s motion.


Copernicus, Nicholas. De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium; Translated by Edward Rosen. New York: Dartmouth College, Sept. 1999 accessed 2004; Available from


De Rev

Sun Centered Copernican System, first proposed in public in 1540.

Sun-Mercury-Venus-Earth (with moon)-Mars-Jupiter-Saturn-Starry Sphere

This image and the detail from it is from 1543, Book I, Chapter X of

On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres.

Here are the translations of the spherical captions. 


I. Immobile sphere of the fixed stars

II. Saturn, is turned in 30 years

III. Twelve-year revolution of Jupiter

IV. Two-year revolution of Mars

V. Earth (Tellus), with the orb of the moon …[?] …

VI. Venus nine month return

VII. Mercury … [?] …80 days

VIII. The Sun


Martin Luther’s Comment on Copernicus


tycho system labeled copy

Cosmological System of Tycho Brahe, ca. 1577

It is earth-centered, but all other bodies besides moon orbit the sun, which orbits the earth.

Spend two or three minutes figuring out how this works.


Given the date, why is Tycho’s theory somewhat odd?

Here is a FlashMovie of his system:  Tycho for Windows  or Tycho for Mac


The Systems if Johannes Kepler (1571-1630)


Detail from Kepler’s first cosmological system from Mysterium cosmographicum – detail of the cosmos.  (1596)

Full Image Link (with translated details- click on thumbnail)



Kepler's MiFaMi

"mi-fa-mi" [mp3]

Click on this link to hear the cosmos sing.


This link plays the music of the planets as Kepler’s mind’s ear heard them.  This piece produced by Produced by Willie Ruff and John Rodgers

starts with Mercury and keeps adding in planets (Venus, Earth, Mars…etc).  You can follow along by referring to the score below, which presents the planets in the opposite order.




Notice the eccentricities. The bigger the eccentricity the greater the interval the planet sweeps out in its song. 

Compare with the music directly above this chart. When viewed in this way, Kepler’s use of music is not quite so strange.

Tons of astronomical animations can be found here:

Last week I mentioned where Hg (Mercury) came from.  Here is the Roman architect, Vitruvius, on this issue. Vitruvius-excerpt-cinnabar-mercury-544KB.pdf It’s just a page or so long.  It is quite interesting because it covers mining, extraction, chemical and alchemical techniques, matter theory, and uses.  Need a point of two?  Write a modern theoretical counterpoint to Vitruvius’ description and some other thoughts that come to you.

Vitruvius, Dewar, Howe, and Rowland. Ten Books on Architecture (De Architectura Libri Decem). Translation from the Latin and commentary by Ingrid D. Rowland. Additional commentary by Michael J. Dewar. Illustrations and commentary by Thomas Noble Howe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999 (from first century BC).



Image by Francesco Parmigianino -ca.1530



Back to HoST Fall 2011 Syllabus



Email me:


Interesting Sciencey News

–If you run across an interesting story, let me know–

Brianna found this absolutely fascinating clip on children raised by dogs:


A new study may have found the philosopher's stone:


Question: What would happen to our economy and environment if people lived to be 150?

There is a good sci-fi script in this.


It Started Digital Wheels Turning

Researchers are trying to build the Babbage Analytical Engine,

a room-size machine designed by Charles Babbage in the 1830s that uses primitive punch cards.