Wilhelm IV of Hesse-Kassel: Informal Communication and the Aristocratic Context of Discovery

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Abstract

That a period of scientific revolution coincided with a period of theological, social and economic change in Europe is an obvious commonplace in literature dealing with the history of early modern science. The question of how specific elements in sixteenth-century society affected the actual process of discovery and the diffusion of new ideas is less clearly understood. In particular, the structure of informal methods of scientific interaction which made possible the transmission of new procedures, discoveries, and technical innovations among mathematicians, astronomers, and naturalists prior to the development of formal scientific organizations,has been left, for the most part,unexplored. One of the aims of this study, then, is to delineate an important mode of scientific interaction during the late Renaissance by examining the role of princely courts in the construction of informal patterns of scientific and technical information exchange. Among various forms of aristocratic patronage, it is possible to reconstruct a special type of courtly involvement characterized by the direct participation of princes in scientific and technical projects. Such courts not only provided an environment for the development of technical proficiency and innovation but also were capable of initiating vast networks of scientific correspondence based upon pre-existing religious and political avenues of communication.