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“Things Most Strange and Wondrous”: The Hidden Roots of Modern Science and Medicine consists of an introduction and three main units that can be used individually or in tandem, exploring different facets of the magical and esoteric traditions that contributed to the development of modern science and medicine. Each main unit provides background information, key concepts, and two to three sub-units with a list of primary and secondary sources, visual resources, discussion questions, and a student activity.

It is expected that each of the three units contains enough material for roughly two to three weeks of class time; altogether, then, the entire module is designed to accommodate roughly six to nine weeks of instruction. Because themes from each unit overlap and interlock with those in the other units, instructors can easily expand any given unit with material from the others.


Introduction includes information about the module's author, an overview, intended audience, suggested use, and learning outcomes of the module.

Unit 1: Investigating Nature

Investigating Nature introduces students to Renaissance conceptions of nature and the wider universe. Unit 1 offers two sub-units: Exotic Flora and Fauna, which surveys how Renaissance naturalists approached nature using both the works of ancient authors and their own direct observations; and Microcosm and Macrocosm, which explores how the thinkers of this period conceived of the relationship between the individual and the cosmos.

Unit 2: How Magic Became Science

How Magic Became Science examines how elements of several magical traditions were borrowed and adapted by Renaissance philosophers as they created what we today recognize as science. Unit 2 provides three sub-units: Magic and Science: A Fine Line; Magic, Empiricism, and the Case of Paracelsus; and Practical Magic: The Alchemies of Robert Boyle and Isaac Newton. These sub-units survey the magical and esoteric elements appropriated by science, the emergence of empiricism as witnessed in the writings of Paracelsus, and the alchemical research undertaken by the acknowledged leaders of the Scientific Revolution.

Unit 3: Magic, Science, and Ethics

Magic, Science, and Ethics explores the simultaneous hope and fear that magic evoked among philosophers, theologians, and the general public. These themes are examined in three sub-units: Utopian Visions: Ethical Uses of Magic and Science; Fragile Reputations: The Trope of the Unethical Magician (and Scientist); and Witchcraft and Science. Using Francis Bacon's The New Atlantis, Christopher Marlowe's Dr. Faustus, and accounts of witchcraft as source materials, these sub-units provide examples of the hopes and anxieties with which magical practitioners often contended.