Published online by Cambridge University Press: 03 May 2011
The large field of medical writing in Early Modern English is still a fairly uncharted area from a linguistic point of view, and this is what our book sets out to explore. In language-external developments, the era between 1500 and 1700 is remarkable: the world view gradually changed from Ptolemaic to Copernican, new continents were discovered, and people ceased to believe in received knowledge. Scientific and medical writing became more diversified with the new medium of the printing press, and the position of English, which had begun to emerge as a language of science and medicine from the shadow of Latin during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, became stronger. Medieval conventions continued in medical writing well beyond the Late Middle English period as early printed books imitated manuscripts, and it took at least half a century or more for a new print culture to break away from the old. Generic developments were dynamic: during the two centuries, the top genres of old scholasticism declined, lost their position as the spearhead of science and were adapted to writings that dealt with established or inherited knowledge. This process created a vacuum at the top. Institutional developments gave an incentive to further changes, and by the time of the Royal Society the written word in the printed form had achieved a leading role in communicating science. Members of the new, close-knit discourse community made a conscious decision to communicate their scientific findings and opinions by writing in the new Philosophical Transactions.