When Garland Publishing invited me several years ago to edit an encyclopedia of the Scientific Revolution, I welcomed the opportunity. Here was a means of providing a wider audience with the fruits of the most recent scholarly research on a fascinating complex of events that helped shape the modern world. The study of the origins of modern science in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries has been a widely expanding field that, in recent years, has undergone significant changes in emphasis and outlook—as have studies in the history of science as a whole. Interest in the subject has grown enormously since World War II. In the mid-twentieth century, only a handful of universities offered courses in the history of science; at the century’s end, hundreds of universities did, and many of them offered doctoral programs in the field, There are now dozens of journals devoted to the history of science, and thousands of books and articles are published each year.
As the history of science has developed as an area of study, its course has exhibited patterns similar to those seen in the natural sciences. Both have undergone processes of fission and fusion, with research areas branching out into subfields, and two or more uniting to create new fields of research. The history of science, initially practiced by historians, philosophers, and retired scientists, now attracts social historians, sociologists, anthropologists, historians of religion and of technology, and literary historians. It has come to embrace biographies of scientists; the histories of scientific disciplines and their branches; scientific institutions; the analysis and development of broad concepts such as matter, motion, and life; the support of scientific activities; the philosophical foundations and implications of science; the relation of science to fields such as medicine and technology; and the social contexts within which scientific ideas and practices emerged.