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History of Science: 1700-1900

History of Science: 1700-1900

Professor Frederick Gregory Ph.D.
University of Florida
Course No.  1210
Course No.  1210
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Course Overview

About This Course

36 lectures  |  30 minutes per lecture

In the period 1700-1900, kings and empires rose and fell, but science conquered all, taking the world by storm. Yet, as the 1700s began, the mysteries of the universe were pondered by "natural philosophers"—the term "scientist" didn't even exist until the mid 19th century—whose explanations couldn't help but be influenced by the religious thought and political and social contexts that shaped their world.

The radical ideas of the Enlightenment were especially important and influential. In this course you see how the work of these natural philosophers prepared the way for the more familiar world of science we recognize today.

Understand Two Centuries of Scientific Discoveries from an Unusually Qualified Professor

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In the period 1700-1900, kings and empires rose and fell, but science conquered all, taking the world by storm. Yet, as the 1700s began, the mysteries of the universe were pondered by "natural philosophers"—the term "scientist" didn't even exist until the mid 19th century—whose explanations couldn't help but be influenced by the religious thought and political and social contexts that shaped their world.

The radical ideas of the Enlightenment were especially important and influential. In this course you see how the work of these natural philosophers prepared the way for the more familiar world of science we recognize today.

Understand Two Centuries of Scientific Discoveries from an Unusually Qualified Professor

To navigate this complex a mix of social factors and scientific knowledge requires a teacher of very specialized background. Trained as both a mathematician and seminarian before receiving his doctorate as a scholar of scientific history, Professor Frederick Gregory brings an unusually apt perspective to the era covered by this course. It was a time when the Church's influences on science were often profound.

Dr. Gregory has organized the course around six main themes:

  • inquiries into the history of the cosmos
  • investigations into the realm of living things
  • the largely successful attempt to break away from occult explanations of chemical phenomena
  • the contrasting persistence of occult appeals in explaining natural phenomena
  • the proliferation of the number and kind of physical forces discovered and investigated, thereby opening up broad vistas for the future
  • the recurring theme of the relationship of God to nature.

In moving back and forth across two centuries, the lectures touch on many of the scientific disciplines we know today, including chemistry, biology, physics, astronomy, paleontology, and others. And they often cover in detail famous experiments and discoveries in areas as divergent as electromagnetism, fossil analysis, and medicine.

Beyond Einstein: Familiar Names, and Some Surprises, Too

You will find names that leap out as familiar, like Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Michael Faraday, Louis Pasteur, Max Planck, Antoine Lavoisier, and Albert Einstein.

And you'll meet some of the greatest names in the histories of non-scientific disciplines. These include thinkers as diverse as Immanuel Kant, Johann von Goethe, Herbert Spencer, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Thomas Paine, to name but a few. All of them entered the fray to leave their mark on the annals of scientific inquiry.

But you'll also learn about others within this fledgling scientific community whom you may never have encountered before. Do you know about Nicolas Malebranche ... Jakob Moleschott ... Robert Chambers ... Abraham Werner ... William Whewell ... or a remarkable woman named Mary Somerville?

Though perhaps less familiar than the scientific minds with whom we have grown up, their roles in the developing history of science were equally important.

The Interaction of Science and Society

The discussions of scientific principles always show how science developed and how scientific inquiry influenced, and was influenced by, the culture of which it was a part. Any discussion of such influence, of course, must take into account the impact of religion.

The Church's precepts played a role in investigations in almost every area of natural science, from the mechanical laws that governed the behavior of the universe and the bodies within it to the debate over God's role in embryonic development.

You'll even learn about a ferocious debate over the possibility of extra-terrestrial life that had its roots in the 13th century.

The debate—which Professor Gregory dubs "The Extra-Terrestrial Life Fiasco"—ultimately involved Thomas Aquinas, the papacy (more than once), Thomas Paine, and the Master of Cambridge University's Trinity College.

Captivating Portraits of an Era and Its People

The debate is just one of many episodes that amplify the themes of the course and are simply fascinating in their own right, conveying a vivid portrait of an era and the people who helped shape it.

You'll learn how:

  • the already raging firestorm over the possibility of evolution led Darwin to delay publishing his own findings
  • the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge was involved in coining the term, "scientist"
  • the self-educated daughter of a British naval officer became a major scientific authority in Victorian Britain.

This course will give you a multi-disciplined picture of science in its historical context as it explores the ideas that took the world by storm.

Beyond that obvious benefit, it will also allow you to enjoy a provocative and nuanced look into an era of excitement and exploration, as scientific thought changed and adapted to accommodate a radically changing world.

This history of science series beginning in the 18th century works very well on its own, and is also designed to follow chronologically from Professor Lawrence M. Principe's 36-lecture course on the history of the foundations of science, The History of Science: Antiquity to 1700.

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36 Lectures
  • 1
    Science in the 18th and 19th Centuries
    Professor Frederick Gregory begins the course by considering the special challenges facing anyone wishing to understand and learn from the natural sciences of the past, and introducing the major subjects and themes of the course. x
  • 2
    Consolidating Newton's Achievement
    This lecture explains how Newton's theories were received by leading thinkers in France and Germany and describes the events that led to the eventual creation of a worldview that claimed Newton as its hero. x
  • 3
    Theories of the Earth
    Just as natural philosophers subjected the heavens to the rule of natural law over the course of the 18th century, so too did they scrutinize the Earth and its past with the same intent. x
  • 4
    Grappling with Rock Formations
    In the 18th century, the scope of German mineralogy expanded to include more than merely the mineral content of the Earth's crust. x
  • 5
    Alchemy under Pressure
    The alchemical understanding concerning the interactions among various material substances was challenged in an attempt to define a rational approach to chemistry. x
  • 6
    Lavoisier and the New French Chemistry
    Investigators in Britain, Germany, and France sought to identify the properties of "airs" (gases) and to explore how they interact. x
  • 7
    The Classification of Living Things
    The view of living things that 18th-century natural philosophers inherited from their predecessors was challenged in this era. x
  • 8
    How the Embryo Develops
    How do embryos of different organisms, which seem in their earliest stages to resemble each other, know how and when to follow different paths to produce different adult forms? We examine the debate over embryonic development. x
  • 9
    Medical Healers and Their Roles
    This lecture examines the general understanding of health and disease of the 18th century as well as the bewildering array of medical healers that graced the countryside. x
  • 10
    Mesmerism, Science, and the French Revolution
    This lecture introduces the theories of Franz Anton Mesmer and details his sensational successes and failures and the reactions to his work, illustrating how natural science is not pursued in a political vacuum. x
  • 11
    Explaining Electricity
    Natural philosophers began to make real headway in explaining the bewildering phenomena associated with static electricity, with the mysterious force eventually capturing the attention not only of kings but of an astute American named Benjamin Franklin. x
  • 12
    The Amazing Achievements of Galvani and Volta
    This lecture examines—and clarifies—the work of the two famous Italian natural philosophers of the late Enlightenment as we look at their debate over the phenomenon of "animal electricity." x
  • 13
    Biology is Born
    In the closing years of the 18th century, a fundamentally new view of life arises among natural philosophers, sharply differing with the conception of natural history that had come before. x
  • 14
    Alternative Visions of Natural Science
    The new outlook reflected in the science of biology was one marker of the end of the Enlightenment and the beginning of a new era, and we look at the differing visions offered by thinkers as diverse as Kant, Schelling, and Goethe. x
  • 15
    A World of Prehistoric Beasts
    By comparing the anatomical features of fossil remains, French natural philosopher Georges Cuvier was able to determine the structures and habits of prehistoric beasts and even formulate an important new system of classification. x
  • 16
    Evolution French Style
    During the first two decades of the 19th century, Cuvier's position on natural history did not go unchallenged. Professor Gregory examines the objections raised by Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, 25 years Cuvier's senior, including their impact on his own career. x
  • 17
    The Catastrophist Synthesis
    This lecture examines the unique route taken by the British to arrive at the controversy over life and its past that was already front and center on the continent. x
  • 18
    Exploring the World
    This lecture introduces the explorations of Alexander von Humboldt and Charles Darwin and analyzes the significance of their journeys for the travelers themselves and for the natural science they influenced. x
  • 19
    A Victorian Sensation
    In 1844, the anonymous publication of The Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation took Britain by storm, sparking debate that contributed to the tumultuous 1840s and helping establish the context in which the subject of evolution entered the British scene. x
  • 20
    The Making of The Origin of Species
    This lecture follows the path Darwin followed in creating and developing his theory in the years after his voyage, and in producing the hurried compendium we know as The Origin of Species. x
  • 21
    Troubles with Darwin's Theory
    During the first decade after the appearance of Darwin's Origin, a number of scientific difficulties were raised by members of Britain's now organized scientific community. x
  • 22
    Science, Life, and Disease
    As Darwin's Origin appeared in England, another controversy—with religious and political implications—was brewing in France over the origin of life itself, with famous French chemist Louis Pasteur at its center. x
  • 23
    Human Society and the Struggle for Existence
    After the addition of Darwin's Origin to the ongoing debate over evolution, the claim that humans should draw lessons about their own society from this new knowledge of the natural world was inevitable. But it was possible to derive very different ideas about what form that society should take. x
  • 24
    Whither God?
    This lecture examines the theological responses to the flourishing of evolutionary theory during the second half of the 19th century, which ranges from outright rejection to warm embrace. x
  • 25
    Forces, Forces Everywhere
    This lecture reviews the heritage of 17th- and early 18th-century treatments of motive force, primarily gravitation and the force created by collisions, and goes on to view the impact as natural philosophers uncovered new phenomena associated with heat, electricity, chemical change, magnetism, and light. x
  • 26
    Electromagnetism Changes Everything
    Danish natural philosopher Hans Christian Oersted uncovered the manner in which a magnet is affected by the flow of electric current, paving the way for later discoveries by Ampère and Faraday and the eventual creation of electrical machines that would directly affect society. x
  • 27
    French Insights About Heat
    Of all the forces of nature, it is the motive force of heat that proved to be one of the most intriguing during the early decades of the 19th century. x
  • 28
    New Institutions of Natural Science
    The emergence of a middle class public sphere and an increasingly significant role for something called "public opinion" paved the way for the emergence of the "scientist," along with a wider concern for distinguishing natural science's methodology. x
  • 29
    The Conservation of What?
    In the 1840s the continuing investigation of the interrelationships among nature's forces leads to inquiries not only about the conversion of one kind of force into another but also about the possible creation and destruction of force. x
  • 30
    Culture Wars and Thermodynamics
    Continuing research into the back and forth interconversions between tensive and motive forces, especially when they involve heat, forced science and religion to seek a delicate balance. x
  • 31
    Scientific Materialism at Mid-Century
    This lecture examines a tumultuous period of conflict to which the addition of The Origin of Species in 1859 represented only more fuel to be added to an already raging fire. x
  • 32
    The Mechanics of Molecules
    This lecture returns to a survey of the knowledge of matter, picking up from discussions of the work of Lavoisier in Lecture 6. x
  • 33
    Astronomical Achievement
    This lecture examines the development of our views of the cosmos, including the nebular hypothesis of Pierre Simon Laplace and the role of a remarkable woman named Mary Somerville in translating and making his work accessible in Victorian Britain. x
  • 34
    The Extra-Terrestrial Life Fiasco
    The 1793 appearance of Thomas Paine's The Age of Reason ignited a raging debate over the compatibility of life on other worlds with the theology of Christianity. x
  • 35
    Catching Up With Light
    By the beginning of the 19th century, no consensus had yet emerged about what light might be, a situation that was changed by the establishment of a new wave theory and the work of Thomas Young in 1801 and James Maxwell at mid-century. x
  • 36
    The End of Science?
    This lecture examines the growth of the confident, and often overconfident, attitude that appeared among some scientists in the late 19th century, and concludes with two key developments that would challenge this confidence at its very core. x

Lecture Titles

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Frederick Gregory
Ph.D. Frederick Gregory
University of Florida

Dr. Frederick Gregory is Professor of History of Science at the University of Florida, where he has taught for 30 years. He holds a B.S. in Mathematics from Wheaton College in Illinois, a B.D. (Bachelor of Divinity) from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, an M.A. in the History of Science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and a Ph.D. in the History of Science from Harvard University. Professor Gregory has received numerous grants for research in his field, including an Alexander von Humboldt grant from the German government and a fellowship from the Dibner Institute for the History of Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was awarded the 2009 Joseph H. Hazen Education Prize for excellence in education from the History of Science Society. He also won the University of Florida's John Mahon Teaching Award for excellence in undergraduate teaching, as well as the Norman Wilensky Graduate Teaching Award. He has provided commentary for the American production of the television series The Day the Universe Changed. Professor Gregory's research interests have focused on German science in the 18th and 19th centuries, particularly as it reflects the larger cultural setting in which it is embedded. His two-volume undergraduate textbook, Natural Science in Western History, was published in 2008.

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Reviews

Rated 4.5 out of 5 by 21 reviewers.
Rated 5 out of 5 by History of Ideas at its Best If you are interested in a history of ideas approach to history, you will love this course. Dr. Gregory teaches the history of an idea, say evolution, through both centuries, rather than just giving a timeline of everything that happened decade by decade. This makes the content hang together so much better and puts everything in its true historical context. History is not about dates -- it is about people and ideas -- and Dr. Gregory's course approaches it just this way. Thank you Dr. Gregory! June 17, 2013
Rated 5 out of 5 by Solid Offering . . . Bravo! Dr. Gregory does a fine job of covering the major players and events of the designated time period. As a teacher of science, I appreciate his thorough exposition, equally balanced between personalities and discoveries and their interplay. I share portions of this course with my students, who engage in conversation about the events -- this is a cross-disciplinary course that provides rich context for each discovery. This is incredibly important for a classical education, helping students to synthesize the connectedness of scientific discovery with other disciplines, such as philosophy, history, and even literature. Kudos to Professor Gregory, whose solid presentation combines with fascinating content to produce a course that begs repeated viewing! December 26, 2012
Rated 1 out of 5 by Horrible I don't understand why The Teaching Company is so enamored with Immanuel Kant. This is not the only course where his insidious ideas are presented as insightful and profound. They should be regarded as ridiculous. Rather than focus on the History of Science, including the major breakthroughs in gravity, electromagnetism, and the connection between science and technological developments, what we get is more nonsense about Kant. The Teaching Company should broaden its philosophic foundation a bit. November 20, 2012
Rated 5 out of 5 by Solidly entertaining This is not a science course but a history of science course. Its focus is not on teaching science but on outlining how Western European science developed in the 18th and 19th centuries, an enormously fertile period following millennia of very slow development. The lecturer skillfully places his audience in the position of struggling scientists of their period, without benefit of hindsight, and shows us the enormous creativity, intelligence, and hard work it took to discover what we are now so dispassionately taught as settled science. Very few of us even master the sciences, let alone advance any of them. It's valuable and enjoyable to hear so many tales of how this huge edifice was slowly and painfully built up from nothing. One entertaining theme is how often scientific debate degenerated into violent "tastes great/less filling" quarrels between camps that later would find a third principle to unite them, such as the disputes over whether geological forces primarily involved flooding or erosion, or whether evolution proceeds in long, gradual sequences or sudden punctuated crises. Science proceeds in fits and starts, with rabbit trails whose error becomes clear only later. A history of this kind fosters both humility in response to the extraordinary work that has been accomplished, and a healthy skepticism about new discoveries announced from the frontiers of modern science, especially when opposing camps are spitting at each other in frustration and derision. October 3, 2012
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