Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Joseph Dauben

Subject Categories

History | History of Science, Technology, and Medicine


astronomy, new star, nova, renaissance


The arrival of the new star of 1572, the first nova recorded in the western canon of natural philosophy startled and challenged the scientific community of the age. As they worked to observe and to understand the nature of this new star, astronomers across Europe quickly discovered that the traditional intellectual tools that they had come to respect and rely upon when observing the heavens were by and large useless in helping them to gather data, and thus to come to conclusions about the star's location, its physical nature and its meaning. In the records that contemporaries have left, modern readers may see how the nova's observers quickly adapted new tools and revised old theories in an effort develop satisfying answers to the questions the nova's arrival forced them to ask. The literary records and physical artifacts of the star's fourteen month long visit also reveal the extent to which natural philosophers had begun to distrust and even to jettison the fundamental tenets of the millennia old epistemologies that had guided their basic beliefs in the ways in which the cosmos was to be understood. In these reports and letters, readers will find technical accounts that will also help them to gauge how far those observers had moved towards the acceptance of an epistemology based upon the values of observation and mathematical analysis. Nova observers of the post Copernican half century, it will be seen, were flexible and independent thinkers, open to new theories and intellectual crosscurrents. They were also active gathers and disseminators of natural knowledge, as well as participants in the continent wide network of scientific investigators; responding to the age's onrush of new information, new technologies and experiences.