Technology in the Renaissance and the Enlightenment

Week 4

Engineering in the Renaissance, the Enlightenment and the rise of capitalism

We will take a look at patrons, technologies and technologists in the Renaissance world. This is a period where new building technologies were explored in relation to cathedrals, new military technologies evolved, perspective drawing saw the light and not least, the printing press came into this world. In this we will encounter well known names such as Leonardo, Alberti and Guttenberg and assess their importance. The political context of renaissance courts and city states and the role of the book as a precondition of technological growth will be examined.

A great interest in measurement arose during the Enlightenment. There was a growing confidence in our ability to understand nature and use it to our advantage.  There was a belief that observing and measuring things as diverse as rainfall, death records and electric charge would lead to eventual benefits for mankind. An important aspect of this was navigation as the Enlightenment in Europe was fueled by profits generated by merchants on sea voyages. The European governments were deeply involved in this development and felt well within their rights to meet threats to the trade with aggression and invasion. Many new instruments were devised. We will take a deep look into the longitudinal problem, the character of shipbuilding technology and the rise of capitalism.


9.00-12. 00 Lecture and seminar

Core readings:


Misa Chapter 1 and 2

Discussion 1:

Cocquyt, Tiemen

"Failure, Fraud and Instrument Cabinets: Academic involvement in the Eighteenth-Century Dutch water crisis"

pp 79-97, in "Cabinets of Experimental Philosophy in Eighteen-Century Europe" 2013  

Discussions 2:

Ferguson, Eugene S.,

“Engineering and the Mind’s Eye”

Ch. 3 -5, pp. 60-152
The MIT Press, 1993


Supplementary Readings:

Bennett, Jim

"Geometry in Context in the sixteenth century: The view from the museum" pp 214-230

Turner, Richard A.,

“Inventing Leonardo”

Knopf, 1993.