“AGES OF ENLIGHTENMENT:
FOUNDATIONS OF THE MODERN WORLD
IN THE SCIENTIFIC AND INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTIONS”
1,000 to 100 years ago
|Galileo Galilei was a an Italian mathematician, physicist, astronomer, and philosopher who lived in the late 15th century. He is credited with improving the telescope and is considered to be the father of modern science. He was a staunch supporter of Copernicanism.
Credit: Illustration by Courtesy of NASA.
This time period documents the development of develop the scientific method and the launching of the industrial revolution. This time period documents the rise of firearms in warfare, changing the ways that military strategy was planned and executed. It witnesses the flowering of painting, sculpture, literature and architecture of the Renaissance. During this period the printing press with movable type revolutionized the dissemination of ideas on parchment and paper. It saw the Ages of Exploration and the European discovery of the Americas, Australia, and the Pacific Islands (and exploitation of indigenous peoples and resources in far flung areas of the world). Significantly, powered transport on the sea, the land, and finally the air developed during this period, bringing different peoples in the world into closer contact and at an accelerating pace.
Most importantly, it was during this period that the scientific method truly flourished, emphasizing empirical evidence, careful observation and recording, and experimentation. Advances in astronomy (facilitated by the use of the telescope), biology (facilitated with the use of the microscope), physics, chemistry, engineering, geology, palaeontology, and archaeology were all products of this Scientific Revolution. Darwin’s concept of evolution by natural selection, showing that life forms changed over time as they adapted to changing conditions, became the pillar of the life sciences and became increasingly well-demonstrated and documented by the prehistoric fossil record.
The Industrial Revolution saw the rise of steam-generated power, standardization, and interchangeable parts, as well as profound socio-economic changes (not all of them good). Steam engines and, later, the internal combustion engine revolutionized human transport and trade in the form of trains, ships, automobiles, and finally the first airplanes. Electricity provided the energy required to illuminate entire cities. New ways of recording and documenting the world included photography, cinematography, and the phonograph, and new ways of long-distance communication included the telegraph, telephone, and radio.
“FIRE AND BRIMSTONE”
THE RISE OF FIREARMS
Beginning 1300 AD
Gunpowder – A very mysterious substance. Just a dark-looking powder, mixed from a handful of natural materials. But apply fire – and watch out! The Chinese started investigating the combination of some of gunpowder’s ingredients – saltpeter and sulfur – almost 2000 years ago for use in medicines. They developed a recipe for gunpowder by 850 AD, and a couple of hundred years later they were using it in some ways in warfare (for example, to make smokescreens or in burning projectiles), as well as in more leisurely pursuits such as firecrackers and fireworks. By the mid-1200’s, there is also a Chinese sculpture showing some sort of vase-like cannon being fired, and an early Chinese gun in bronze dates to around this time. But it wasn’t until about 1300 A.D, after knowledge of use of gunpowder (using sulfur, carbon charcoal, and saltpeter or potassium nitrate) was acquired by the Arabs and the Europeans (perhaps over the silk route between China and Europe, or perhaps with invading Mongols), that it began to be used prominently in firearms and warfare. The arms race had truly begun by this time.
THE RENAISSANCE IN THE WESTERN WORLD
Beginning 1400 AD
Have you ever heard someone say, “He’s a real Renaissance Man”?
This seems a good thing… but what does this really mean? What it usually meant is that the person has a very broad knowledge in many areas, has many skills, and can often use expertise in one area to apply in another one. Leonardo da Vinci is often considered the ultimate example of such a person – a great painter and sculptor, engineer, scientist, inventor, anatomist, architect, musician, and writer. Leonardo was born early in the time we call the Renaissance and exemplifies the arenas in which advances were being made during that period, starting especially in the early 1400’s in Europe, especially in Italy (and especially Florence). Italy may have been a center for this due to the power and influence of the emergent city-states there at the time, some of them overseen by lords but others developing republics. The name, meaning “new life,” refers to a sort of rebirth of cultural ideals from Classical Roman and Greek times, at a time when the remnants of the culture of ancient Rome, the Byzantine civilization, were in serious decline.
THE AGE OF EXPLORATION & EXPLOITATION
Beginning 1400 AD
Think of our planet. Conscious and intelligent life has emerged, and eventually complex societies have developed. But, even after the beginning of complex societies thousands of years ago, different populations and cultures were developing in different continents in isolation from each other. Then all of that suddenly ended – only a few hundred years ago. When some civilizations developed ways of traveling quickly and abruptly into new lands, especially by sea, societies that had been separated or even isolated for much of their development suddenly found themselves shoulder to shoulder with others – visitors, intruders, colonizers, plunderers (take your pick of labels!) coming to their borders or their shores – with their own cultures, ways of life, languages, and objects of desire – things to exploit or to trade.
“HOT OFF THE PRESSES”
THE PRINTING PRESS AND MOVABLE TYPE
Beginning 1455 AD
If we want to communicate with others, the first way we think of is talking, but if we want our words to go further, beyond the people we meet, what do we do? One way is to write it down, get it out, say what you have to say in a more lasting way. This wasn’t always possible, however. Writing things down has been relatively recent in human history, but getting the word out to many, many people is even more recent. The best way would seem be to mass produce written words, but this was not that easy at first and it took some time to develop.
“From Superstition to Science”
The Scientific Revolution
Beginning 1543 AD
You may not realize it, but you use science all the time. When you study the mileage performances of car models before a purchase, when you check out the RBI statistics on a baseball player to predict his performance, or when you record your weight steadily decreasing through diet and exercise, you are employing a scientific method. It is such a part of our culture and society we tend to take it for granted today, but this is a fairly recent phenomenon in the human epic. Prior to this, explanations for events that occurred in the natural world were steeped in beliefs in superstition, magic, witchcraft, omens, and ghosts.
“ALL FIRED UP”
THE INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION
Beginning 1760 AD
By the latter half of the 1700’s, major transformations were underway in Europe to harness energy and use it for various purposes, including manufacturing, transportation, mining and agriculture. Tasks that previously had been done by human hand or with animal power, or when possible with water or wind power, were now starting to be done with other energy sources and ingenious inventions that performed the tasks faster, or more reliably, or in greater volume than had ever before been possible. Key inventions in this social revolution include the steam engine, various inventions to process cotton or produce fibers, powered looms, threshing devices and mechanical plows, and new ways to produce iron with cheap fossil fuel (coal) rather than charcoal. This transformation is commonly called the ‘Industrial Revolution.’
“START ME UP”
POWERED MODERN TRANSPORT
Beginning 1802 AD
Starting in the early 1800’s, over the next 100 years a series of inventions absolutely transformed transportation of people and things. These innovations were steamships, the steam locomotive, automobiles, and airplanes.
“YOU OUGHTA BE IN PICTURES”
PHOTOGRAPHY AND CINEMATOGRAPHY
Beginning 1826 AD
Photography literally means ‘light drawing.’ The beginnings of photography have a partial origin in a device used by Leonardo da Vinci and other artists in his time, the ‘camera obscura’ (meaning ‘dark room’), as an aid in drawing. In essence, this is an actual dark room or a box with a small hole at one end; when light from outside enters the room or box, an image of the scene outside is projected onto the side opposite the hole, though upside down. If the image was projected onto paper, it could be traced and used as the basis for a drawing with true perspective and color maintained! (Knowledge of the principle of the camera obscura actually goes back to at least the times of the ancient Chinese and Aristotle in the 5th and 4th Centuries B.C. and was described by the Muslim scientist Ibn al-Haytham’s in his Book of Optics in the 11th Century AD). By the 1700’s, portable forms of the camera obscura were often taken on travels by artists and writers to help them make images or drawings of the sights they saw – an early, do-it-yourself sort of photograph!
“FROM A DISTANCE”
Beginning 1830 AD
Communicating across some distance had long been desired among human societies, and many developed ingenious ways to get some kind of message transmitted to people some distance away. Smoke signals, drum beats, and semaphores (visual communication through lights or flags) are some of the ways people have tried to transmit information across space. Obviously, such means are limited, can’t transmit very far, and depend on the observer happening to be watching while the signaler is transmitting the information. This problem was also focused on by ingenious inventors of the 1800’s, who quickly devised some major ways of communicating across very long distances – by electric telegraph, telephone, and radio. Of these, the latter two, the telephone and telegraph, are still very, very important to us even today.
“BRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG CITY”
ELECTRIC LIGHT AND POWER
Beginning 1879 AD
When we have a temporary blackout today, almost everything stops – our lights, computers, TVs, radios, elevators, refrigerators, washers, dryers, air conditioners, and furnaces. Anything not operating on a backup battery is dead. Such dependence on electricity for the huge majority of our everyday functions and activities is mind-boggling, and somewhat disturbing. But the beginning of this dependence is only a little over 100 years old, starting with the development of widespread electrical systems along with the development of early electrical lighting.