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Sprach- und Literaturwissenschaftliche Fakultät

Professur für englische Literaturwissenschaft – Prof. Dr. Florian Klaeger

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The turn of the seventeenth century saw an "academic boom" in publishing (Blair 2006, 450). Despite this visible change in the transmission of knowledge, astronomical textbooks as such have not been studied extensively by literary scholars. Still, literary scholarship provides useful instruments for describing the transformation of the bodies of knowledge and the corresponding forms of communication. For instance, the competition between different world systems is reflected in the fact that many textbooks now offered several theories on the structure of the universe, but withheld judgement as to which is the 'correct' one (Boutroux 1921, 283-284). This undermined a formal feature of this genre we take for granted today: the declared educational intention with a clear competence gap between author and audience within a formalised disciplinary framework (Simon 2016, 403). Part of our investigations focuses on vernacular introductions to astronomy and astrology, enquiring which formal knowledge was activated in them and to what extent the social dimension of form was functionalised.

The corpus ranges from early texts such as Boorde's Pryncyples of Astronamye (1547) to Blaeu's Tutor to Astronomy and Geography (1654), Desaguliers' Course of Mechanical and Experimental Philosophy (1715) and Adams' popular The Construction and Use of New Celestial and Terrestrial Globes (1766ff.) to Bonnycastle's influential Introduction to Astronomy (from 1786).The fact that such text forms also found their parodies - as in Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy (1628) - illustrates their popularity and their (ambivalent) reputation.

Some textbooks were also aimed directly at a female and young audience, e.g. Tom Telescope's "Lectures" to the "Lilliputian Society", which appeared in numerous editions from 1761 until well into the 19th century (cf. Secord 1985). In addition to imparting astronomical knowledge, texts such as these were also concerned with conveying moral values as part of the 'invention of childhood' in the 18th century.

Our working bibliography of printed isagogic texts on astronomy in English, 1500-1800, is available here. Please note that this is a developing list that also includes texts which only reference astronomical matter as part of a wider curriculum.

Florian Klaeger's article on the forms and functions of astronomical print letters during the Restoration, published in the Journal of Eighteenth-Century Studies (2024), is available from here (external link, open access).

Jonas Kempf is producing a monograph on Neoplatonic thought in selected astronomical textbooks of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Works cited

  • Blair, Ann. “Natural Philosophy and the ‘New Science’.” The Cambridge History of Literary Criticism 3: The Renaissance, ed. Glyn P. Norton, Cambridge UP, 2006, pp. 449–457.
  • Boutroux, Pierre. “L’Enseignement de la Mecanique en France au XVIIe siecle.” Isis, vol. 4, no. 2, 1921, pp. 276–294.
  • Secord, James A. “Newton in the Nursery: Tom Telescope and the Philosophy of Tops and Balls, 1761–1838.” History of Science, vol. 23, no. 2, 1985, pp. 127–51.
  • Simon, Josep. “Textbooks.” A Companion to the History of Science, ed. Bernard V. Lightman, Wiley Blackwell, 2016, pp. 400–413.

Verantwortlich für die Redaktion: Prof. Dr. Florian Klaeger

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