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Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543), of German and possibly Polish extraction, spent three years at the University of Cracow and then ten years at Italian universities. In Italy he was introduced to the Pythagorean ideas, which left a permanent mark on his mind, and became interested in astronomical theories. He returned home to the position of canon of Frauenburg cathedral where he stayed until his death. [excerpt]

Additional Resources

Some material in the original text is restricted by copyright. Here are links to earlier editions or translations of the same material:

Nicolaus Copernicus, On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres (Prometheus Books, 1976).


This is a part of Section VIII: The Development of Modern Science. The Contemporary Civilization page lists all additional sections of Ideas and Institutions of Western Man, as well as the Table of Contents for both volumes.

More About Contemporary Civilization:

From 1947 through 1969, all first-year Gettysburg College students took a two-semester course called Contemporary Civilization. The course was developed at President Henry W.A. Hanson’s request with the goal of “introducing the student to the backgrounds of contemporary social problems through the major concepts, ideals, hopes and motivations of western culture since the Middle Ages.”

Gettysburg College professors from the history, philosophy, and religion departments developed a textbook for the course. The first edition, published in 1955, was called An Introduction to Contemporary Civilization and Its Problems. A second edition, retitled Ideas and Institutions of Western Man, was published in 1958 and 1960. It is this second edition that we include here. The copy we digitized is from the Gary T. Hawbaker ’66 Collection and the marginalia are his.