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History of Science 16th astronomy

History of Science Online

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LibraryThing: Science in Ancient Mesopotamia Week 11: 16th-century Astronomy

Interpretation essay

# Due Date Pts Activity Time
4 Friday
11:59 p.m.
20 Interpretation Essay
Unless it explains, history is trivial.
Write a short persuasive essay agreeing or disagreeing with a common interpretation about the topic and expressing your own view
60 min.

Sic et Non

Write your interpretation in a 1200-1800 word essay.

It’s time to put on our thinking caps and interpret the significance of what we’ve been exploring! Unless it explains, history is trivial. Did you discover anything unexpected this week that needs to be explained? What surprised you this week? Did you make any unexpected discoveries? What was the most meaningful part of your explorations this week?

  1. How did the story of Regiomontanus (and to some extent, Copernicus) exemplify characteristic themes of the 15th century (humanism, hermeticism, printing, etc.)? What was the importance of the Printing Revolution for the De Revolutionibus?
  2. How did the Reformation affect Copernicus and his work? How did the Counter-Reformation affect the reception of Copernicus?
  3. Evaluate the historical evidence for the following common but deeply-flawed explanations of the superiority of Copernicanism.
    1. The Ptolemaic system was unable accurately to predict the positions of the planets.
    2. The Ptolemaic system had no explanation of retrograde motion.
    3. Copernicanism was simpler; the Ptolemaic system was monstrously complex.
  4. It is often said that Copernicus only proposed his system as a hypothesis to “save the phenomena,” and did not believe it was physically real. Discuss the historical evidence pertinent to this claim.
  5. It is often said that by removing the Earth from the center of the universe, Copernicanism rejected the anthropocentric orientation of the medieval cosmos. Discuss the historical evidence pertinent to this claim.
  6. It is often said that Copernicus refrained from publishing his views until his death because of fear of suppression by the Roman Catholic Church. Discuss the historical evidence pertinent to this claim.
  7. Thomas Kuhn, in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, described a "revolution" as taking place when a sufficient number of unsolved puzzles or “anomalies” accumulate into “crisis” proportions, prompting a “paradigm shift” in which investigators adopt a different and “incommensurable” point of view that resolves the crisis. How suitable is this description for the 16th-century development and reception of Copernicus’ De Revolutionibus?
  8. Given the evidence in 1615, which system of the world had at that time the strongest claim for acceptance?
    Michael J. Crowe comments that “it is an irony of current educational practice that whereas everyone believes the earth orbits the sun, few persons can cite the evidences that led to this conviction” (p. iv). Put yourself into a time machine and travel back to the year 1615, before Apollo missions to the moon or Space Shuttle astronauts in orbit became part of our cultural consciousness. This date even falls before Galileo's first encounter with the Inquisition. Appeals to events or discoveries occurring after 1615 would seem arbitrary and out of place. Obviously there is no “correct” answer to this sort of question.

Instructions for Interpretation assignments:

  1. Go to Janux and watch the Interpretations video prompt.
  2. Comment on your initial reaction to the video prompt in the discussion stream at Janux.
  3. Take one of the questions or points of view listed here and consider how it relates to the assigned readings for this week. Consider both Context and Evidence assignments, whenever applicable.
  4. Write a short essay defending your thesis and/or refuting competing interpretations. An Interpretation essay must express a point of view, supporting that argument with specific evidence gathered from the assigned readings.
  5. Your Interpretation essay should be at least 1200 words long, and not more than 1800 words (you can do a word count at Motionnet.com). This word count does NOT include the original question you are responding to, any quotations from assigned readings, or the two notes at the end of the essay.
  6. Spellcheck, word count, and proofread your essay. Since this is a longer writing assignment, you will probably want to use the spellcheck and word-count features in your word processor.
  7. In a one or two sentence note at the end of your essay (not part of the word-count), indicate why you chose to respond to that issue and how you came up with the interpretation.
  8. In a one-sentence note after your essay (not part of the word-count), identify which style or genre you selected (analytical, narrative, dialogue, etc.) and explain why you thought that would be the most effective way to convey your interpretation.
  9. Include reference citations or links to any textbook, website, course page, or Exhibits Online that are closely related to your Interpretation (e.g., "For Redondi's view, go here: insert link"). Additional reading beyond course assignments is not required, but you must include at least two citations or links to assigned readings that provide evidence and relevant historical context. These two sources must be either primary sources that pertain to the topic and come from the period being discussed or secondary sources (e.g., one of our textbooks or assigned web pages) written with demonstrable knowledge of the relevant primary sources (for example, in addition to the assigned background readings, professional historians of science may be assumed to be familiar with the sources they write about; see guidelines for evaluating sources). An argument that is not supported with documented evidence does not meet the minimum requirements for an Interpretation essay. For citations and links, use the forms described in the bibliographical guidelines. (For example, a citation to our text could be "Lindberg, Beginnings, p. #." )
  10. Cut-and-paste your completed essay, with notes and links, and post it in the Interpretation forum for this week at the Confluence discussion board.
  11. After you have posted your Interpretation, complete the Gradebook Declaration in Desire2Learn. (Your Gradebook Declaration is subject to the Honor Code.)

Here is the text of the Desire2Learn Gradebook Declaration:

(7 points) I have posted my Interpretation at Confluence. My Interpretation shows that I have thought about BOTH Context and Evidence assignments for this week. I have done a word count, and my Interpretation is at least 600 words min. My word count does NOT include the original question I am responding to, any quotations from assigned readings, or the two notes at the end of the essay.

(7 points) I have posted an Interpretation at Confluence that is at least 1200 words min. and no more than 1800 words max.

(1 point) My Interpretation contains an explanation of how I came up with my point of view (not part of the word count)..

(1 point) My Interpretation contains a sentence explaining the genre or style of writing I adopted (not part of the word count).

(2 points) My Interpretation contains a citation or link to at least one relevant source (such as the assigned readings) including either a primary source or a secondary source written by an author with demonstrable knowledge of the primary sources.

(2 points) My Interpretation contains a citation or link to at least two relevant sources (such as the assigned readings) including either a primary source or a secondary source written by an author with demonstrable knowledge of the primary sources.


"It is not in space that I must seek my human dignity, but in the ordering of my thought. Through space the universe grasps me and swallows me up like a speck; through thought I grasp it." Pascal, Pensees, 113.

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HSCI 3013. History of Science to 17th centuryCreative Commons license
Kerry Magruder, Instructor, 2004
Brent Purkaple, TA

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Many thanks to the pedagogical model developed in Mythology and Folklore and other online courses by Laura Gibbs, which have been an inspiration for this course.

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This course is currently undergoing major reconstruction to bring it into alignment with the new version of the course at Janux