SCIÈNCIA.CAT provides the international academic community and the general cultured public with access to a part of the Catalan historical heritage which is yet little known or studied: the scientific and technical works which circulated in the Catalan language —either originals or translations from other languages— during the last centuries of the Middle Ages and the early Renaissance (13th-16th c.).
Thus, our choice of the name Sciència.cat is a real declaration of intent —it combines historical heritage with one of today's most useful tools for providing information.
Emergence of the vernacular languages
This rich and vast heritage can be explained by a significant new phenomenon that developed in medieval Western Europe as a consequence of deep social and economic changes taking place within feudal society with the rise of the bourgeoisie: the emergence of the languages commonly spoken, known as vernacular or vulgar, as a vehicle for the dissemination of knowledge.
This new use of the vernacular languages, which was to have radical consequences, grew in tandem with the transition from the spoken to the written word while Latin still survived as the undisputed vehicle of scholarly science and culture until well into the modern age. Vernacular languages, however, were perceived as useful tools by certain professional and social sectors, and their areas of diffusion were different from those of Latin. Despite this fact, some interesting intersections existed, yet they have rarely been studied, and even less frequently accorded their proper value.
Vernacularization of knowledge
The cultural and social phenomenon called vernacularization of knowledge, of science and technology in the present case, began in several parts of the western European world during the 13th century, coinciding with a new appreciation for knowledge and for its potential for change. That society became, above all, interested in physical and natural knowledge, and most particularly in health, an especially sensitive area of physical reality that worked as a major driving force behind the aforementioned process.
The new appreciation and dissemination of scientific and technical knowledge, which spread across all strata of society, allowed for an unprecedented social penetration of that knowledge, which was greatly fostered by the communicative possibilities of vernacular languages, by growing literacy and by decisive changes in the production and marketing of books. Hence, many areas of culture, from fine arts to literature, experienced an emergence of topics and motifs unused until then that enhanced the process even further.
It should be noted that the phenomenon of the vernacularization of knowledge, seen as a whole and in the field of science in particular, can only partially be put on a par with the concept of vulgarization or dissemination. Light is shed on the historical and cultural dimensions of this phenomenon when the complex motivations of the target audiences are carefully considered. These were mostly non-university trained audiences, but formed both by sectors alien to the various disciplines and involved in their practice.
Historical and cultural framework
SCIÈNCIA.CAT's team focuses its line of research on the study of this phenomenon within the framework of the Catalan speaking countries, which, by then, had been amalgamated into the political entity created by Catalans and Aragonese that came to be called the Crown of Aragon. The political, economic, military and cultural policies of the Catalan-Aragonese State allowed all sorts of fruitful exchanges in the —Christian and Muslim— Mediterranean world. These contributed to transform a language spoken only by few into a relatively early and widely used instrument for scientific communication, while, on the other hand, many members of the country's Jewish communities took an active part in the process.
This research covers the span of time between the last decades of the 13th century, when the beginning of Catalan as a vehicle for these attainments is detected, and the first decades of the 16th century, when Catalan started showing the signs of political, economic and social changes that were eventually to deprive it from, or largely diminish, this vehicular role.
Such a vast amount of factors involved require an interdisciplinary approach in research. In addition to general history, specialised history (the history of science in the present case), the history of literature and language and lexicography, along with all its related and supporting disciplines, should be considered.
Despite being focused on the described historical and cultural framework, a comparative approach is necessary to understand this phenomenon correctly. For this reason, SCIÈNCIA.CAT also promotes on-going research about other neighbouring cultural and linguistic contexts that interacted in varying degrees with contemporary Catalan culture.
SCIÈNCIA.CAT's research line might significantly contribute to several spheres of historical and literary studies: the history of crafts and trades, the history of scientific dissemination, the history of publishing and reading, the history of language and specialised vocabularies, and the history of literature and of the literary writers cultural background, just to mention the more representative ones.