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Author: Harold J. Cook


The Great Tradition of writing about what came to be called The Scientific Revolution developed in the mid-twentieth century and helped to shape what came to be termed “early modern” Europe. At least two fundamental structural elements of the framework were that a small group of independent minds had been set free to grasp new truths, and that rivalries among many groups in Europe never allowed “European civilization” to achieve homeostasis, thus continuing to encourage innovation in conditions of freedom. It is worth noting, however, that the first of these structural elements had religious overtones that were important in the early stages of the Cold War, and that the second placed innovation within a tradition of great texts rather than material culture and practice. Both changed the earlier conversation of the 1930s, which had been about political economies, connecting the new history of science to a history that offered to explain European superiority on the basis of the search for truth. Recent developments in global history, which are rooted in economic histories, challenge such a framing. The brand-name of The Scientific Revolution is common and will remain a useful short-hand, but its meaning requires major revision and should not be limited to the history of Europe.

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In: Journal of Early Modern History
Author: Harold J. Cook


Why did Descartes not publish his chief physiology work during his lifetime? Descartes considered that the physiological and medical conclusions that could be drawn from his philosophy were fundamental to his intellectual project, and an apparently complete work was circulating among friends in 1641 but was only published more than a decade after his death, as De Homine (1662) and Traité de l’Homme (1664). This paper argues that Princess Elisabeth’s careful consideration of his physiology raised questions about whether the common interpretation of his philosophy as dualistic was correct, implicating it in some of the most dangerous arguments of his generation. Her questions served as a warning, in a moment when the personal papers and even the liberty of the Frenchman were threatened. Descartes had no interest in becoming a medical Galileo, and listened to the princess, leaving the work unpublished.

In: Early Science and Medicine
In: Descartes and the Ingenium     
Chinese Medicine in the First Global Age
Volume Editor: Harold J. Cook
During the first period of globalization medical ideas and practices originating in China became entangled in the medical activities of other places, sometimes at long distances. They produced effects through processes of alteration once known as translatio, meaning movements in place, status, and meaning. The contributors to this volume examine occasions when intermediaries responded creatively to aspects of Chinese medicine, whether by trying to pass them on or to draw on them in furtherance of their own interests. Practitioners in Japan, at the imperial court, and in early and late Enlightenment Europe therefore responded to translations creatively, sometimes attempting to build bridges of understanding that often collapsed but left innovation in their wake.

Contributors are Marta Hanson, Gianna Pomata, Beatriz Puente-Ballesteros, Wei Yu Wayne Tan, Margaret Garber, Daniel Trambaiolo, and Motoichi Terada.

​​​​​​​Winner of the J. Worth Estes Prize 2021 awarded by the American Association for the History of Medicine:
Beatriz Puentes-Ballesteros, “Chocolate in China: Interweaving cultural histories of an imperfectly connected world,” in Harold Cook (ed.), Translation at Word: Chinese Medicine in the First Global Age (Leiden, Boston: Brill | Rodopi, 2020).
In: Translation at Work
In: Translation at Work