Quadrant Constructions and Applications in Western Europe During the Early Renaissance
By Darren Stanley
Master’s Thesis, Simon Fraser University, 1994
Abstract: During the Middle Ages and the Early renaissance in the Latin West the quadrant in its many guises was an important scientific and mathematical instrument for a number of scientific disciplines. The earliest use of the quadrant, as R. T. Guther in his Early Science in Oxford suggests, was in surveying and then subsequently in the service of astronomy when horary lines were added. However, the quadrant was not limited just to the computational and mensurational needs of astronomers and surveyors. Cartographers, navigators and militiamen and bombardiers also adopted the quadrant for their wok in the years to follow.
Not only was the quadrant useful in the work of the astronomer et al., but in the hands of these specialists the quadrant was adapted and modified (either in the manner in which it was employed or through changes to various incorporated scales). The aim of this work will be to examine developments in the ways in which the quadrant was constructed and used during the early renaissance from the early sixteenth century to the mid-seventeenth century in Western Europe by specialists in the areas of astronomy, surveying, navigation and military science.
In the course of their studies, historians of science have often contemplated the mutual relationship and influence which science and technology have upon each other. If one observes the growth of Western Europe from the Late Middle Ages onward, for example, one sees a society struggling to understand its relationship to the rest of the world and the roles which science and technology play in its struggle, disciplines which allow them to investigate and affect the physical properties of the world in which they live. Today, we can look back upon that history to examine the roles of science and technology and to observe those mutual developments.
It is with this hindsight that contemporary historians of science can see influences that certain scientific instruments have had upon areas of science. A case in point is the scientific instrument known as the quadrant, which enjoyed a fruitful life as a practical tool for Renaissance practitioners of astronomy, surveying and other applications.