Renaissance Vision from Spectacles to Telescopes (American Philosophical Society Memoir 259, ISBN: 0871692597)

July 7, 2010 at 11:13 pm Leave a comment

Renaissance Vision from Spectacles to Telescopes
(American Philosophical Society Memoir 259, ISBN: 0871692597)
by Vincent Ilardi (Hardcover no dustjacket, 305 pages, 2007, $85.00)

Renaissance VisionThis book deals with the history of eyeglasses from their invention in Italy ca. 1286 to the appearance of the telescope three centuries later.

“By the end of the 16th century eyeglasses were as common in western and central Europe as desktop computers are in western developed countries today.” Eyeglasses served an important technological function at both the intellectual and practical level, not only easing the textual studies of scholars but also easing the work of craftsmen/small businessmen.

Read the Google Preview: Towards a Rational Historiography of this book before you purchase it.

An important subthesis of this book is that Florence, rather than Venice, seems to have dominated the commercial market for eyeglasses during the 15th century, when two crucial developments occurred: the ability to grind convex lenses for various levels of presbyopia and the ability to grind concave lenses for the correction of myopia. As a result, eyeglasses could be made almost to prescription by the early 17th century. Illustrations.

“Ilardi has produced the definitive history of spectacles – aided in part by economic historians and others who over the decades sent him relevant records discovered in Florentine, English, and other European archives,” writes Pamela O. Long in a review for the Medieval Academy of North America’s Speculum: A Journal of Medieval Studies (April 2009). [PDF]

“At a time when many historians of technology and of material culture conceive their work contextually or in terms of cultural meaning, this study is resolutely focused on the empirical evidence for spectacles as it has been found for various times and places.

“Ilardi has done more than expand our knowledge of a particular area of history. Over the decades during which he carried out his investigation and with the warmly appreciated help of scholars in other archives, most importantly the Florentine, he has created a substantial history of eyeglasses that had not existed before.”

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Polar Hayes: The Life and Contributions of Isaac Israel Hayes, M.D. (American Philosophical Society Memoir 262, ISBN: 9780871692627) Copepodologist’s Cabinet: A Biographical and Bibliographical History (American Philosophical Society Memoir 240, ISBN: 0871692406)

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