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Traveling Around the Empire: Iberian Voyages, the Sphere, and the Atlantic Origins of the Scientific Revolution

Traveling Around the Empire: Iberian Voyages, the Sphere, and the Atlantic Origins of the Scientific Revolution

By Lino Camprubí

Eä – Journal of Medical Humanities & Social Studies of Science and Technology, Vol.1:2 (2009)

Abstract: This paper aims at illuminating the links between spherical geography, Catholic empire and the Atlantic origins of the scientific revolution. Boldly put, the theory of the sphericity of the earth stood at the center of Iberian expansion and its imaginary; in turn, imperial patronage contributed to give a new status to that theory and to transform it into one of the sources for the early modern worldview.

Three main moments constitute the previous argument. First, voyages developed along with spherical geography, in which lumps of earth were located in terms of latitude and longitude. Second, Iberian voyages of discovery developed spherical geography by enlarging the Greek known world, or oikumene, and gave new ground to the theory of the sphericity of the earth in the midst of medieval competing models, specifically one that held that the sphere of the earth was suspended over a sphere of water too large to be navigated. Third, imperial voyages together with spherical geography, practice merged together with theory, rendered the entire world subject to human measure and exploration. For the first time, it also made clear that the natural knowledge developed from antiquity to the early modern period could and did produce practical power.

Thus, the simultaneous development and mutual nourishment of spherical geography and imperial voyages was a significant source for the scientific revolution.

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