CATEGORIES OF SOURCES
The Archimedes Project traces the basic mental models of mechanical knowledge and their development across a large historical time span which may be divided into the following six major periods, the first four of which are presently in the focus of the ongoing research.
1. Prehistory of Mechanics
For a long period of time human cultures have accumulated practical mechanical knowledge without documenting this knowledge in written form and without developing theories about this knowledge. This knowledge can thus only indirectly be inferred from images and archaeological remains.
2. Origins of Theoretical Mechanics
The first written treatises dedicated to mechanics and to physics appeared in ancient Greece, associated in particular with names such as Aristotle, Euclid, Archimedes, and Heron. Mechanics was based on the law of the lever, physics on the Aristotelian law of the relation between force and motions. The tension between both influenced the further development of mechanics.
3. Medieval Mechanics
Medieval mechanics is characterized by the transformation of mechanics into a "science of balances and weights" based on the law of the lever and using the techniques of ancient mathematics. The Arab and Latin Middle Ages produced an extensive mechanical literature focused, however, on a relatively small range of subjects. Aristotelian physics was modified by the theories of impetus and by theories of proportions of motions.
4. Preclassical Mechanics
Preclassical mechanics grew out of the challenges of Renaissance technology. The development of preclassical mechanical knowledge ranges from the sketches of Renaissance engineers such as Leonardo da Vinci to the mature works of Galileo Galilei. In contrast to the preceding periods it deals with an increasingly large number of subjects, among them the inclined plane, the pendulum, the stability of matter, the spring, etc. Preclassical mechanics was based on assumptions of Aristotelean physics, but made these assumptions more and more obsolete.
5. The Rise of a Mechanical World View
The emergence of classical mechanics changes at the same time the scientific status of this discipline. Mechanics developed into a theoretical foundation of science in general. This period extends from the first comprehensive visions of a mechanical cosmos such as that of Descartes, via the establishment of classical and later analytical mechanics, to the attempts of nineteenth century scientists to build physics on an entirely mechanical basis.
6. The Decline of the Mechanical World View
In the nineteenth century increasing incompatibilieties betwee the three main subdisciplines of physics, mechanics, thermodynamics, and electromagnetism, challenged more and more a common mechanical foundation. The mechanical world view became entirely obsolete with the emergence of modern physics and its conceptual revolutions represented by the relativity and quantum theories at the turn from the nineteenth to the twentieth century.