Meta-Scientific Foundations of Astronomy (IX-XVII Centuries) and their Cultural-Institutional Settings

11.08.2014 - 12.08.2014

Workshop der KG IV "Struktur und Wissenswandelt", organisiert von Dr. Pietro D. Omodeo (Teilprojekt B06)

Guest: Prof. José-Luis Mancha (Universidad de Sevilla) 


The meta-scientific foundations of astronomy and the institutional settings of this discipline in the Middle Ages and the Early Modern Period are two apparently distant but often complementary aspects. The former aspects accounted for the theoretical and epistemological premises of the mathematical and physical knowledge of the heavens. They also comprised natural-philosophical, theological, anthropological, and ethical themes. They offered the legitimation for special theories, such as planetary modeling, the explanation of the source of motions and of the causal relations among celestial phenomena or between celestial and terrestrial occurrences. As far as the institutional side is concerned, it shall be assumed that “spaces” such as courts, scriptoria, schools and universities, or more informal circles and networks, were crucial for the establishment and for the transmission of astronomical knowledge and the reflection upon its meta-scientific foundations. Institutional settings are relatively easy to reconstruct in the case of late medieval and early modern Europe because our knowledge is not limited to manuscript or printed sources on astronomy and natural philosophy. Rather, it is enriched through consideration of archival sources (such as administrative documents, teaching curricula, university statutes, formal and informal letters, books’ annotations, juridical and ecclesiastical witnesses, and drafts of printed books). As for other geographical areas and historical environments, it is not always possible to ascertain the social structures supporting knowledge codification, stabilization and transmission. Nonetheless, significant aspects of scientific tracts transmitted in manuscript form (reference to discussions, dialogical forms and dedications) permit to reflect about teacher-scholar relations or scholarly exchanges also for environments or epochs for which we dispose only of textbooks or research literature. Moreover, one can assume that the systematization of astronomical knowledge within established philosophical frameworks guaranteed its transportability and endurance. Concentric planetary theories and theories of planetary motion are a suitable case to investigate the transmission of cosmological models in the longue durée and in a transcultural perspective. However different, metaphysical and physical concerns (often depending on local circumstances, and descending from various scholarly traditions such as Aristotelianism, neo-Platonism or more eclectic approaches) shaped astronomical axioms such as the uniform circularity of planetary motions and the necessity of their causal accountability.

These aspects shall be discussed in a one-plus-one-day workshop, comprising a talk (by our guest, Professor José Luis Mancha) and a seminar addressing the entire Collective Research Centre “Episteme in Bewegung”, in the first day, and a smaller working group, in the second day (see below). Various medieval and early modern authors from different historical settings will be considered, especially thinkers who developed astronomical models and cosmological reflections, among them, Thabit ibn Qurra, al-Farabi, Ibn Sina, al-Bitruji, Fracastoro, G.B. Amico, as well as later less known scholars. The participants in the workshop (see names listed below) will pre-circulate primary sources on the history of astronomy and cosmology. On this basis, a series of questions shall be addressed: How can and shall we extract from our sources information concerning the meta-scientific dimension of astronomical theories in different environments? What can be established about institutional settings? Can historians of science benefit from institutional history (including socio-economical and political history)? Can we establish common methodologies dealing with materials stemming from different cultures and geographical areas? Can we assess transcultural lines of continuity in the transmission of astronomical theories and models alongside their theoretical and meta-scientific apparatus? How shall we assess reception and transformation through reception (e.g. the Aristotelian reception of Ptolemy or the Averroistic reception of al-Bitruji in specific historical settings)? How can we critically reflect historiographical narratives that shaped the research in our fields?

These issues go clearly beyond the specifica of the history of science and relate to history of knowledge and culture at large. Therefore the discussion and exchange with colleagues of the Collective Research Centre is crucial. The workshop will in fact address general questions such as the transmission and transformation of episteme in the longue durée, as well as a methodological reflection on the ways historians shall deal with this problematique and assess it. In particular, this meeting on the history of astronomy will benefit from and contribute to the investigations carried out within Konzeptgruppe IV on institutions and the mechanisms of stabilization and transmission of knowledge, as well as the investigations of Konzeptgruppe I about transculturality and globalization of knowledge.

The invitation of Prof. José-Luis Mancha (Universidad de Sevilla) will offer the occasion to develop a fruitful methodological and historical discussion. He will be guest of the Collective Research Centre for the entire month of August 2014, and will discuss his research and views with us. His present research concerns the Andalusian astronomer al-Bitruji (12th century) and the survival of Eudoxus's homocentric astronomy in the Middle Ages.


Program     August 11-12, 2014

Venue: SFB-Villa, Schwendnerstr. 8, D-14195 Berlin


August 11, 2014

Double Talk:

09:30 - 11:00 Prof. José Luis Mancha (Universidad de Sevilla, Spain) presents on al-Bitruji in the context of Andalusian science

11:30 - 13:00 - Prof. Luis Miguel Carolino (ISCTE - Instituto Universitário de Lisboa) presents on André de Almada’s informal academy at Coimbra in the 17th Century



Beginning of the activities of the working group: discussion of sources and their interpretations, and reflection on methodological aspects in the history of science

15:30 – 16:30 - Pietro D. Omodeo introduces the questions underlying the working group and the book project / discussion.

16:45 - 18:00 – Sonja Brentjes (MPIWG-Berlin) introduces her topic and her sources: Pietro della Valle’s Persian Summary of Tycho Brahe’s Cosmology for the Astronomer Zayn al-Din Lari


August 12, 2014

Continuation of the activities of the working group: discussion of sources and their interpretations, and on methodological aspects in the history of science.


09:00 – 10:15 - Matteo Martelli (HU, Berlin)
Topic: Astrology, Alchemy and Medicine at the Court of Heraclius.

10:15 – 11:30 - José Luis Mancha (Universidad de Sevilla, Spain)
Topic: Al-Bitruji and the Survival of Eudoxus's Homocentric Astronomy in the Middle Ages

11:45 – 12:00 - Luis Miguel Carolino (Instituto Universitário de Lisboa, Portugal)
Topic: André de Almada’s Informal Academy at Coibra in the 17th Century

12:00-13:15 - Pietro Daniel Omodeo (MPIWG-Berlin)
Topic: Metaphysics and Astronomy in the Academic Institutions of the Baltic Area (16th-17th Centuries)


 Kontakt: Dr. Pietro D. Omodeo, pdomodeo(at)

Zeit & Ort

11.08.2014 - 12.08.2014

SFB-Villa, Sitzungsraum, Schwendenerstr. 8, 14195 Berlin-Dahlem