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WRTG 3030 Radical Science Writing (Long) - The History of Western Science: The Enlightenment (1700s)

A guide for understanding the history of western science using original materials found in CU's Rare and Distinctive Collections..


Science in Europe during the 1700s was one of a variety of other intellectual movements that fall under the umbrella term the "Enlightenment." In a basic sense, the Enlightenment included increased discussion of political rights, religion, philosophy, and an emphasis on the scientific method. It  swept through France in particular in the 1700s, where intellectuals met to discuss new ideas and circulated them with a vast number of published pamphlets, books, and newspapers. Perhaps nothing is more emblematic of the Enlightenment than the French series of 20 books titled the Encyclopedia of the Sciences, one of the first attempts to collect all scientific knowledge into one place. These books served as an invaluable reference source and jumping off point for research, not unlike Wikipedia today. 

The Encyclopedia of the Sciences

To learn about perhaps the most important scientific publication during the Enlightenment, check out the video below, narrated by Susan Guinn-Chipman of CU's Rare and Distinctive Collections. For more on Diderot’s Encyclopédie, including full text and plates, see the University of Chicago’s The ARTFL Encyclopédie and The Wellcome Collection, London. The Rare Books Collection’s copy of Diderot’s plates come from the 1777-79 edition.     


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Sean Babbs