Portal:History of Science
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Portal:History of Science

The History of Science Portal

The history of science is the study of the development of science, including both the natural and social sciences (the history of the arts and humanities is termed history of scholarship). Science is a body of empirical, theoretical, and practical knowledge about the natural world, produced by scientists who emphasize the observation, explanation, and prediction of real-world phenomena. Historiography of science, in contrast, studies the methods employed by historians of science.

The English word scientist is relatively recent, first coined by William Whewell in the 19th century. Before that, investigators of nature called themselves "natural philosophers". While observations of the natural world have been described since classical antiquity (for example, by Thales and Aristotle), and the scientific method has been employed since the Middle Ages (for example, by Ibn al-Haytham and Roger Bacon), modern science began to develop in the early modern period, and in particular in the scientific revolution of 16th- and 17th-century Europe. Traditionally, historians of science have defined science sufficiently broadly to include those earlier inquiries.

From the 18th through the late 20th century, the history of science, especially of the physical and biological sciences, was often presented as a progressive accumulation of knowledge, in which true theories replaced false beliefs. More recent historical interpretations, such as those of Thomas Kuhn, tend to portray the history of science in terms of competing paradigms or conceptual systems within a wider matrix of intellectual, cultural, economic and political trends. These interpretations, however, have met with opposition for they also portray the history of science as an incoherent system of incommensurable paradigms, not leading to any actual scientific progress but only to the illusion that it has occurred.

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The history of science in early cultures refers to the study of protoscience in ancient history, prior to the development of science in the Middle Ages. In prehistoric times, advice and knowledge was passed from generation to generation in an oral tradition. The development of writing enabled knowledge to be stored and communicated across generations with much greater fidelity. Combined with the development of agriculture, which allowed for a surplus of food, it became possible for early civilizations to develop and spend more of their time devoted to tasks other than survival, such as the search for knowledge for knowledge's sake. Read more...
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Newton-WilliamBlake.jpg

Poet and artist William Blake criticized Newton and like-minded philosophers such as Locke and Bacon for relying solely on reason.

Blake's 1795 print Newton is a demonstration of his opposition to the "single-vision" of scientific materialism: the great philosopher-scientist is shown utterly isolated in the depths of the ocean, his eyes (only one of which is visible) fixed on the compasses with which he draws on a scroll. His concentration is so fierce that he seems almost to become part of the rocks upon which he sits.

Did you know

... that the Merton Thesis—an argument connecting Protestant pietism with the rise of experimental science—dates back to Robert K. Merton's 1938 doctoral dissertation, which launched the historical sociology of science?

...that a number of scientific disciplines, such as computer science and seismology, emerged because of military funding?

...that the principle of conservation of energy was formulated independently by at least 12 individuals between 1830 and 1850?

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Bust of Shen at the Beijing Ancient Observatory

Shen Kuo (Chinese: ; 1031-1095) or Shen Gua, courtesy name Cunzhong () and pseudonym Mengqi (now usually given as Mengxi) Weng (), was a Chinese polymathic scientist and statesman of the Song dynasty (960-1279). Excelling in many fields of study and statecraft, he was a mathematician, astronomer, meteorologist, geologist, entomologist, anatomist, climatologist, zoologist, botanist, pharmacologist, medical scientist, agronomist, archaeologist, ethnographer, cartographer, geographer, geophysicist, mineralogist, encyclopedist, military general, diplomat, hydraulic engineer, inventor, economist, academy chancellor, finance minister, governmental state inspector, philosopher, art critic, poet, and musician. He was the head official for the Bureau of Astronomy in the Song court, as well as an Assistant Minister of Imperial Hospitality. At court his political allegiance was to the Reformist faction known as the New Policies Group, headed by Chancellor Wang Anshi (1021-1085).

In his Dream Pool Essays or Dream Torrent Essays (?; Mengxi Bitan) of 1088, Shen was the first to describe the magnetic needle compass, which would be used for navigation (first described in Europe by Alexander Neckam in 1187). Shen discovered the concept of true north in terms of magnetic declination towards the north pole, with experimentation of suspended magnetic needles and "the improved meridian determined by Shen's [astronomical] measurement of the distance between the pole star and true north". This was the decisive step in human history to make compasses more useful for navigation, and may have been a concept unknown in Europe for another four hundred years (evidence of German sundials made circa 1450 show markings similar to Chinese geomancer compasses in regard to declination). Read more...

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October 27:
  • 1992 – Death of David Bohm, American-born physicist, philosopher, and neuropsychologist (b. 1917)

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