Monday workshop
Monday, February 26, 2024 - 3:30pm

392 Cohen Hall


The Structure of Scientific Progress: The Case of Roger Bacon

The Middle Ages—and medievalism—are central to the history of science. But how can a historical period synonymous with regression and decline be central to a narrative of scientific progress, intellectual transformation, and knowledge-making? In this talk I explore the importance of the medieval period and nineteenth-century medievalism to the invention of modern science by placing the work of thirteenth-century Franciscan, polymath, and Scholastic natural philosopher Roger Bacon (ca. 1214-1292) into conversation with later scholars, especially William Whewell (1794-1866). I argue that Bacon’s work and reputation became central to a narrative about the development of science that insisted on Europe as the only possible place of its origin. Furthermore, I argue that this narrative was constructed, in part, by ignoring large parts of Bacon’s corpus and erasing his deep engagement with medieval scholars working in the Arabic tradition, and by relying instead on a narrative of Christian supremacy that first emerged in the late antique and medieval period.