Barrontini and Settura (2020) Beyond Perrault's experiments

From History of Hydrology Wiki
Jump to: navigation, search


Barontini, S. and Settura, M.: Beyond Perrault's experiments: repeatability, didactics and complexity, Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 24, 1907–1926,, 2020.


The naturalistic and philosophical studies conducted in the second half of the 17th century were crucial both for the birth of modern hydrological science and modern epistemology. Thanks to quantitative observations and to the new experiment-based scientific approach, the Sun was about to be fully recognized as the engine of the hydrological cycle. In this context of great vitality and rapid cultural changes, Pierre Perrault published his classical opus De l'origine des fontaines (On the origin of springs) in 1674. The opus presents a discussion on the origin of springs and contains the report of a set of experiments of water flow through a soil column, which may be considered the first of modern hydrology.

In assessing the importance of Perrault's opus, we will discuss his epistemological relevance by looking at the novelty of his approach, at the repeatability of the experiments, at the intriguing didactic aspects for the modern teaching of hydrology and at his attitude in facing the complexity of hydrological processes.

Perrault places himself in the context of a novel experimental epistemology. On the basis of our analyses he seems to be aware that the processes involved in the hydrological cycle and in soil hydrology are hardly reproducible by means of a controlled laboratory model. This circumstance put the modern scientific approach to a severe test at its very beginning. It is suggested that some of Perrault's epistemological and methodological reflections are precursors of the modern epistemology of complexity. Thus even if Perrault's conclusions followed an ancient opinion, his work is not only seminal for hydrology, but also helps to enlighten some features of the scientific revolution of the 17th century.



Free view available at