_Inventing the Flat Earth: Columbus and Modern Historians_ (1991) by medieval scholar Jeffrey Burton Russell is an interesting examination of the role of the idea that medieval Europeans believed the earth to be flat before Columbus (what Russell refers to as the "flat error"). Russell is to argue that while some ancient and medieval sources maintained a flat earth, most of educated Europe believed in a round earth even before Columbus and the final confirmation of Magellan. Today, the term "flat earther" has been taken on as a term of abuse hurled against those who object to certain theories or adhere to an alternative or religious point of view. The role of this term originates in the alleged warfare between religion and science which was pushed forward in the nineteenth century. Russell is to consider various understandings of the role of science and religion and to argue that this alleged "warfare" in fact is to rest on a fallacy. Russell notes how the "flat error" occurs in many mainstream and respected sources including appearing in the works of the highly respected scholar Daniel Boorstin. Russell argues that the role of the "flat error" can be understood as being a phenomenon as ethnocentric as the imperialism of the nineteenth century.
The book includes the following chapters -
Preface - explains the role of the prejudice among "educated people" that medieval Europeans believed the earth to be flat before the time of Columbus.
The Well-Rounded Planet - considers the voyage of Columbus and the importance of this voyage, noting many of the objections to Columbus from the perspectives of the American natives. Notes how many argue falsely that Columbus's voyage was used to prove to medieval skeptics that the earth was round.Read more ›
Russel shows that there never was a time in which the church or scholars believed that the earth was flat. There have been a few individuals on the fringe who believed such a thing, but it was never dogma and never something that came up with Columbus's desire to sail west. Russel shows how such a falsehood became accepted "truth" and in so doing gives a cautionary tale for today. The book is only about 80 pages long and it isn't difficult reading, but it is informative and though provoking.
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