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The Renaissance

The Late
Middle Ages
• River-based energy (mills) → manufacturing
• Furnaces → cast iron → cannon
• With cannon, no more hiding behind castle walls →
feudalism breaks down
– diplomacy and alliances replace moats; consolidation
• New ship navigation technology → exploration and
• Wars and trade maintain movement of goods and
ideas among major cities
• High tech: clock; eyeglasses, telescope, microscope
What Started It All:
J. Gutenberg’s Printing Press
• Made possible by paper and other earlier
• Four key innovations:
– Stamping mold for casting letters (replacing non-
uniform, hand-made ones)
– Heavy press (from grape press used in winemaking)
– Hardened alloys for cast letters (from metalworking)
– New oil-based ink (from Flemish painters)
• Gutenberg’s legacy: cheap books
– No more rare pricey handwritten imperfect
– By 1500, six million books printed
– Access to books, mostly classics, exploded
– Book writing became popular
– New learning → new radical thinkers

• Among those printed in

quantity was this:
. . . Which resulted
in this:
Which later built this...

And finally this.


• Catholic Church: Less isolation, more engagement

– Reformation, Secular humanism : Man at the center
– Counter-Reformation → Jesuits → Ateneo
• Back to the Bible: new fundamentalist Christian
• Painting: Realism, perspective; secular subjects
• Literature: Classics-inspired, written in the vernacular
(not Latin) by Rabelais, Cervantes, Shakespeare
– Secular trend also seen in music, architecture
• Science: less Greek influence; skeptical of tradition;
more practical, experimental, observational
Very Big

• Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) – The Man

• Nikolaus Copernicus (Polish, 1473-1543)
–Replaced Ptolemy’s complicated planetary model with a
simpler, more elegant heliocentric one
• Johannes Kepler (German, 1571-1630)
–From Tycho Brahe’s data, discovered celestial “harmonies”;
replaced N.C.’s perfect circular orbits with ellipses
• Galileo (1564-1642)
–Pointed the telescope upwards, showed the heavens to be
imperfect (some objects move around planets and not the
earth, moon scarred by craters, one planet had “ears”)
More Big

• Andreas Vesalius (Flemish, 1514-1564)

– Questioned Galenic tradition; conducted human and
animal dissection
• William Harvey (1578-1657)
– Applied the scientific method to studying the human
body; discovered the circulation of blood
• René Descartes (1596-1650)
– Jesuit-trained; analytic geometry, mind-body problem
– “Cogito ergo sum”
– Heretic idea: material bodies obey not God, but
mechanical laws
The Age of
• Inspired mainly by greed, but also by thirst for
knowledge and religious mission
• Made possible by new technology: ship designs,
maps, compass, rudder, astrolabe, barrels
• Columbus (Italian; in America by 1492),
Magellan (Portuguese; Philippines by 1521),
Drake (English, C. America by 1570)
• Not just Europeans: Zheng He’s voyages (1405-
33) with 62 ships and 28,000 men to SE Asia,
India, Persian Gulf, Africa
Big Question:

Of all places, why did the Renaissance

begin in Western Europe?

Why not in the more advanced cities of Asia?

Why in the

• Einstein etc.: Thank the Greeks for rational science

• J. Needham: short answer – too much central
bureaucracy in China hampered innovation
• L. Shaffer: Don’t expect Chinese tech that changed
the West to have the same effect in China
– Cannon: except for Great Wall, no feudal castles to
destroy in China
– Printing: had same democratizing effect of learning but
not enough to cause the same changes in China
– Compass: also allowed navigation, but with different aims

Diamond Sutra, 868 AD

Why in the

• China supported exploration, but for different

– The obvious: Spices that partly spurred Western
exploration already available in China
– Zheng He’s fleet carried mainly gifts: voyages aimed not
at conquest, but promotion of empire
– When Ming dynasty closes China’s borders, exploration
ends with Zheng He’s return
• Nothing wrong with China, India or elsewhere, but
their technology found special use in Europe’s
liberal, merchant economy