Monday is Museums & Monuments Day at the River Houses: spend a few minutes exploring an important cultural or historical site online and broaden your homeschool horizons. Don’t worry about being comprehensive: just find its location your atlas (riverhouses.org/books), learn a new name, a new date, or a new word or two, and your little lesson is done. Over the course of the year, almost without realizing it, your students will absorb a wealth of new cultural, historical, and geographical information—and so will you!
Today happens to be the birthday of one of the most famous scientists in history, Nicolaus Copernicus, born 19 February 1473 in Toruń, Poland, so we’re going to pay a virtual visit to the Muzeum Mikołaja Kopernika we Fromborku, that is, the Nicolaus Copernicus Museum in Frombork, Poland, where Copernicus lived and did much of his work. The museum itself is a relatively small place on the grounds of Frombork Cathedral. Here’s its website, with photographs, background on Copernicus’ life, and more:
Copernicus’ great accomplishment was to replace the earth-centered or geocentric model of the solar system, widely accepted since ancient times, with a sun-centered of heliocentric model that has the earth and all the planets orbiting the sun. The museum’s website summarizes:
“Nicolas Copernicus is one of the most fascinating personages of the Renaissance. He was principally known for his heliocentric theory, which gave modern views of the structure of the Universe their start. Today, Copernicus’ theory that the Earth is not the center of the Universe but along with all the other planets circles around the Sun is considered to be quite obvious. However, at the time the theory was voiced, it was a revolutionary view and greatly influenced all natural and philosophical sciences.
“Tycho Brahe, Galileo, John Kepler, Isaac Newton (who had the newest and the most accurate sky observation instruments) provided new proof of the accuracy of the heliocentric theory’s principles. The final verification and formulation of Copernicus’s theory took place upon Kepler’s introduction of the planet’s elliptical orbits and Newton’s formulation of the basic laws of mechanics and gravity.” (frombork.art.pl/en/life-nicolaus-copernicus)
(You’ll note, especially if you read any of the museum’s webpages with your students, that the text wasn’t written by a native English speaker—a little lesson in itself for your students to understand. The main body of the museum’s website is in Polish, and the English version should be received charitably and with gratitude. If the website had only been in Polish I wouldn’t have been able to read it, and perhaps you wouldn’t either.) 😊
Copernicus was an extraordinary scholar, and astronomy was only one of his favored subjects. He spoke five languages, translated Greek poetry, studied medicine, mathematics, economic theory, and more. And he did this while serving for much of his adult life in Frombork as a canon of the cathedral—a senior church administrative officer who lived on the cathedral grounds:
“Despite his many duties, he always found the time of observe the heavens, and to calculate and write down his scientific masterpiece, which described a new view of the world’s structure and ensured its author an important place in science. He conducted research whenever he could find the time and when the weather, which lends to be fickle in Frombork (Frauenburg), permitted. The instruments which he used for his research, he made himself out fir tree wood, based on an antique instrument design. The simplest instrument was the quadrant, used to measure the angle height of the Sun and the Moon above the horizon. For the more exact measurements of height and distance, Copernicus used an instrument called the astrolabe (armillary sphere). He placed all of the instruments on an even and specially leveled tile called the pavimentum in the gardens next to the canonry.” (frombork.art.pl/en/life-nicolaus-copernicus)
Today on his birthday, remember with your students the life of this great “Renaissance man,” Nicolaus Copernicus.
What museum or historical monument have you visited with your homeschool students lately?
¶ Explore more: Your River Houses history encyclopedia (riverhouses.org/books) has a beautifully illustrated overview of the historical period known as the Renaissance on pages 250–253, including a mention of Copernicus and his significance—just the background you need for a wonderful homeschool history lesson.