A dramatic story has often been told that links Europeans’ landfall in the Americas to the origins of modern science. By this view, Atlantic colonization helped bring about a revolution in the way science was practised. The Americas’ surprising existence undermined the authority of the Bible and the teachings of Aristotle, both of which had been ignorant of the New World. The shock of discovery unsettled long-rooted trust in what these precious books said about the world, its peoples, and the God who had created them. But it wasn’t just the content of knowledge that the Americas changed. The very ways by which Europeans claimed to understand nature’s processes were transformed. Scriptural and Aristotelian teachings were not simply incomplete or corrupt; more dramatically, their fallibility suggested that trust in words passed down across generations was in fact the wrong basis for making sense of the natural world. Experience, experiment, eye-witnessing, empiricism — a variety of labels became linked to the ideal of directly interrogating nature as a utilitarian enterprise. This modern epistemological break is, moreover, often portrayed as an especially English story.
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