What counts as an experiment and how did experiment become the arbiter of scientific discovery? Certain experiments have achieved iconic status: Galileo’s pendulum, Boyle’s air pump, Newton’s ‘crucial experiments.’ But what happens when we reevaluate these from the perspective of ‘borderline’ practices: anatomical dissections, chemical recipes, medical cases, craft techniques? We draw on ancient, medieval and early modern sources, as well as the modern historiography of experiment, to explore the challenge of observing and testing nature. As far as possible, we attempt to recreate practices in class, from glassworking to alchemy.
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