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History of Science Week 1: Stonehenge and the shape of the Earth

History of Science Online

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LibraryThing: Science in Ancient Mesopotamia Week 1: Exploring the Past

Evidence + quiz: Shape of the Earth

# Due Date Pts Activity Time
3 Thursday
11:59 p.m.

Topic2 + Quiz
Background: Without a sense of context, history is anachronistic.
Primary sources: Without documentary evidence, history is speculation
The second of two topic assignments per week involving both background and primary sources.

90 min.

Each week the Evidence assignments will be listed on a page like this. This first week, a Stonehenge assignment subsitutes for the usual Context assignment; and a Shape of the Earth assignment substitutes for the usual Evidence assignment. Hint: You may want to print this page and keep the questions below in front of you to answer them as you complete the assigned readings.

Here are the shape of the Earth assignments:

  1. Watch the Shape of the Earth video at Janux:
  2. Read my page about modern Flat Earthers.
  3. This week the main Evidence assignment is a presentation, written in a fictional dialog style, that I hope you will find to be fun and engaging. It surveys the history of ideas about the Shape of the Earth.

Shape of the Earth from Kerry Magruder on Vimeo.

I hope you enjoy watching the video for this story half as much as I enjoyed making it!


TOPIC QUIZ: The statements are either True or False. When you take the quiz at Janux, you will see 12 of these statements, chosen at random, 2 points each.

  1. T or F? A famous woodcut of a medieval figure gazing beyond the heavens provides evidence of medieval belief in a flat Earth.
  2. T or F? The Pythagoreans argued that the Earth is a sphere because the sphere is the most beautiful shape.
  3. T or F? The Pythagoreans argued that the Earth is a sphere because of an analogy between the macrocosm (universe) and microcosm (Earth).
  4. T or F? Aristotle’s theory of gravity required the Earth to be flat.
  5. T or F? Lunar eclipses prove that the Earth is a sphere.
  6. T or F? Roman writers such as Cicero and Pliny believed the Earth is flat.
  7. T or F? Catholic theologians such as Augustine and Aquinas believed the Earth is flat.
  8. T or F? Belief in a spherical Earth was considered heresy by popes in the middle ages.
  9. T or F? Medieval natural philosophers such as William of Ockham and Nicole Oresme believed the Earth is flat.
  10. T or F? Columbus argued that he could sail around the world against Spanish Inquisitors who thought the Earth was flat.
  11. T or F? Circumpolar stars may dip below the horizon as they make their daily circle around the north star.
  12. T or F? The ancient Librarian of Alexandria, Eratosthenes, accurately determined the circumference of the Earth.
  13. T or F? The necessity for the International Date Line was not recognized until the journeys of Columbus and later voyagers.
  14. T or F? Stars appear to rise in the east , turn overhead, and set in the west just as if they were fixed to the inside of a giant celestial sphere.
  15. T or F? Fixed stars appear to move in circles around the Earth at a constant distance from the north pole or from the celestial equator.
  16. T or F? Belief in a spherical Earth was suppressed by kings in the middle ages.
  17. T or F? The existence of time zones confirms that the surface of the Earth is curved from east to west.
  18. T or F? The change of visible circumpolar stars confirms that the surface of the Earth is curved from north to south.
  19. T or F? Medieval writers of literature such as Dante and Chaucer believed the Earth is flat.
  20. T or F? Ancient Greeks from Plato to Aristotle to Ptolemy thought the Earth is flat.
"The earth was made round so we would not see too far down the road." Karen Blixen

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HSCI 3013. History of Science to 17th centuryCreative Commons license
Kerry Magruder, Instructor, 2004
Brent Purkaple, TA

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Many thanks to the pedagogical model developed in Mythology and Folklore and other online courses by Laura Gibbs, which have been an inspiration for this course.

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This course is currently undergoing major reconstruction to bring it into alignment with the new version of the course at Janux