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2019 Marston LaFrance Lecture: The Renaissance Machine

April 3, 2019 at 2:30 PM

Location:433 Paterson History Lounge

event poster including black and white photo of W.R. Laird seated


FASS Public Lecture: 2019 Marston LaFrance Lecture

The Renaissance Machine: How Humanists and Mathematicians Rediscovered a Lost Science and Moved the World

Lecture by Professor W. R. Laird, Department of History.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019, 2:30 pm



At the beginning of the sixteenth century, there was no science of machines. The legacy of ancient mechanics in the Middle Ages was only a few fragments constituting the science of weights. Although Archimedes’ works were known by the thirteenth century, they had very little influence. His famous claim, that given a place to stand he could move the earth, was an empty boast. All this changed around 1500, when humanist scholars recovered the Aristotelian Mechanica and fragments of Hero’s lost Mechanica. At the same time, mathematicians rediscovered the science of weights and Archimedes. From these traditions—the Aristotelian, the Archimedean, the Heronian, and the science of weights—they forged a new mathematical science of machines. This talk will sketch the history of the rediscovery of ancient mechanics and suggest how it led to the mechanical philosophy of the seventeenth century and moved the world.