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Marchand, Trevor H.J. (2008) 'Modernity's Artisanal Roots. [Review of] The Body of the Artisan: Art and Experience in the Scientific Revolution by Pamela Smith.' The Senses and Society Journal, 3 (1). pp. 91-96.

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Copernicus and Vesalius are commonly regarded as the founding minds of the Scientific Revolution, which so radically altered European conceptions of the universe and the human body within it. In its course, Aristotelian theories of matter, movement and motion were overturned; a heliocentric view of the universe was established; and Galen’s anatomical studies were discredited. The new philosophy was propagated by Galilei’s astronomical observations and Kepler’s laws of planetary motion; by Descartes’ rationalism and, very importantly, by Bacon’s inductive method of scientific enquiry. Bacon’s method relied upon the powers of observation and experience for gathering facts from which axioms and causal laws could be derived. Newton’s later theory of gravitation and his laws of motion laid the groundwork for classical mechanics, entrenching reason and the predictive power of laws as pivotal to the scientific enterprise of the modern age. Historian Pamela Smith contests the adequacy of this narrative by tracing the threads of the Scientific Revolution back further in time and by investigating the professional activities and worldviews of a very different cast of historical players. The Body of the Artisan begins its story nearly one and a half centuries before the publication of Copernicus’ On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres (1543) and, in a novel manner, foregrounds the knowledge of late medieval and renaissance artisans as the source and the inspiration of the modern scientific method. Smith’s purpose is to portray the close relationship between artistic and scientific representations of nature, and to delineate the artisanal epistemology of that age and its incorporation into the new science of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. With a combination of historical analyses and an anthropological appreciation of context and indigenous ways of knowing, the book considers how the production of knowledge crosscut professional categories and social classes. In doing so, Smith lucidly situates the radical ideas and methods of the Scientific Revolution within a broader history of activities and intellectual currents emanating from diverse quarters and strata of society.

Item Type: Book Reviews
SOAS Departments & Centres: Legacy Departments > Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Department of Anthropology and Sociology
ISSN: 17458927
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 09 Jun 2008 11:02

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