Optional intensive course, October 17-23, 2017

Department of Philosophy

University of Bucharest


Images of the Knowledge System Pivoted Around Cosmology.

A new form of codification of practical knowledge and its (practical) function from the 14th to the 17th century

Matteo Valleriani (Max Planck Institute for History of Science, Berlin, & Visiting Professor, IRH-ICUB October 2017)


Level: master and PhD students, but the course is also open to undergraduates

Language: English

Practical knowledge is the knowledge needed to produce a certain item; it can take the form of an art or mechanical object, or of the specific result of, for instance, a medical treatment or mathematical procedure. The production process of this item is always represented by a workflow, such as the construction process of a machine, the formulation of a recipe, or the creation of an algorithm. The early modern period is characterized by the incremental codification of practical knowledge into texts, diagrams, and images. Being codified, this knowledge is no longer practical but assumes more abstract forms: it becomes the new foundation of a new knowledge structure and a new knowledge system.

Based on this definition, the course/seminar will explore the process of expansion of the knowledge system that emerged during the late Middle Ages, which was based on the geocentric worldview and institutionally embedded in the newly founded European universities.

One of the mechanisms that allowed for a conceptual expansion of the knowledge system as well as for an enlargement of the social group that had access to such systems is represented by the implementation of a pictorial program in sciences that undoubtedly began during the 14th century.

The course/seminar will provide an introduction to this “renovation” process of the sciences during the late medieval epoch and early modern period by analyzing, discussing, and contextualizing images. Mirroring the process of formation of disciplines and professions, the following knowledge areas will be taken into consideration: cosmology, timekeeping, geography (cosmography), medicine, and alchemy (pharmacology).

The course/seminar is structured in five meetings, each of which will go deeper into the mentioned subjects.

Form of examination: colloquium



October 17, 2017


Cosmology Johannes de Sacrobosco’s Tractatus de sphaera and its reception
October 18, 2017


Timekeeping Computational method used to compile calendars at the dawn of the Middle Ages
October 19, 2017


Geography The enlargement of the geographical scale during the 13th century and during the time of the early journeys of exploration
October 20, 2017


Medicine Institutional medical curriculum, practical medicine, and the role of astrology
October 23, 2017


Alchemy From botanics to inorganic pharmacology: the contamination of alchemical knowledge



  • Valleriani, Matteo. 2017. The Tracts on The Sphere. Knowledge Restructured over a Network. In Structures of Practical Knowledge, Matteo Valleriani (ed.) 421–73. Dordrecht: Springer.
  • Chap. 3 of Siraisi, G. Nancy. 1990. Medieval & Early Renaissance Medicine. An Introduction to Knowledge and Practice. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Chap. 5 of Principe, Lawrence M. 2013. The Secrets of Alchemy. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Extra readings can be assigned in class