Leonardo da Vinci as a WAC-ish Example for STEM Professors and Students to Consider

Klawe, Maria. “Look What Happens When STEM Professors Teach Writing.” Forbes, 30 April 2014, https://www.forbes.com/sites/mariaklawe/2014/04/30/why-stem-professors-can-teach-anything-even-writing/#7483653930a0 . Accessed February 2019.


Paredes, Ingrid. “Implementing Writing-to-Learn Approaches in STEM.” Inside Higher Ed, 11 Sept. 2018, https://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/gradhacker/implementing-writing-learn-approaches-stem . Accessed February 2019.


Reynolds, Julie A. et al. “Writing-to-Learn in Undergraduate Science Education: A Community-based, Conceptually Driven Approach.” CBE Life Sciences Education, vol. 11, no. 1, 2012: 17-25, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3292059/ . Accessed February 2019.


Smelser, Ron E. “How to Build Better Engineers: A Practical Approach to the Mechanics of Text.” The Quarterly (National Writing Project), vol. 23, no. 4, 2001: 32-35, https://www.nwp.org/cs/public/print/resource/241 . Accessed February 2019.


The above four articles which have rather recent publication dates should convince readers that writing helps STEM students to learn and then to communicate to others what they have learned.  Yet writing as an important tool in the hard sciences is not something new.  For humanists of the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries on the Italian peninsula and in France, the sciences and the arts were not viewed in as divided a light as they are today at some universities.  Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) is well-known for painting The Last Supper and The Mona Lisa, but he also worked on making developments in a wide variety of subjects such as engineering, geology, architecture, mathematics, astronomy, botany, and anatomy.  The American Society of Mechanical Engineers website has a page about Da Vinci.  The Engineering and Technology Magazine (of The Institution of Engineering and Technology) has a 2016 article about Da Vinci, and a 2010 article appears in the journal Leadership and Management in Engineering.  It would not be difficult to keep listing more modern-day sources, but returning to Da Vinci himself it is known that part of his work for the Duke of Milan included figuring out how to develop weapons and build war vehicles.  A constant that appears in how Da Vinci approached exploring all of these subjects and more is that he wrote about them.  No, he was not writing in order to pass university courses or to obtain a professorship.  Writing was just part of the process of how he acquainted himself with subjects.  He noted down his observations of certain objects in nature; he proposed that certain things operate in certain ways; he explained how inventions of his might work.  Observe, propose, explain—all in writing.  One need not be a genius in order to do this.  Mere mortals can find comfort in knowing that Da Vinci was not always correct in his statements about the topics that he was exploring, and one should not imagine that his notebooks were neat.  He jumped from topic to topic in his notebooks, as university students today might do in a low-stakes journal assignment for a STEM course.  Jean Paul Richter (1847–1937) who translated Da Vinci’s notebooks into English (1883) notes in the Preface:

Leonardo’s literary labours in various departments both of Art and of Science were those essentially of an enquirer, hence the analytical method is that which he employs in arguing out his investigations and dissertations. The vast structure of his scientific theories is consequently built up of numerous separate researches, and it is much to be lamented that he should never have collated and arranged them. His love for detailed research—as it seems to me—was the reason that in almost all the Manuscripts, the different paragraphs appear to us to be in utter confusion; on one and the same page, observations on the most dissimilar subjects follow each other without any connection. A page, for instance, will begin with some principles of astronomy, or the motion of the earth; then come the laws of sound, and finally some precepts as to colour. Another page will begin with his investigations on the structure of the intestines, and end with philosophical remarks as to the relations of poetry to painting; and so forth.



References & Suggested Reading


Birkett, Dea. “Leonardo da Vinci: artist and engineer.” The Engineering and Technology Magazine, 18 Jan. 2016, https://eandt.theiet.org/content/articles/2016/01/leonardo-da-vinci-artist-and-engineer/ . Accessed February 2019.


“Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex on the Flight of Birds.” Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, https://airandspace.si.edu/exhibitions/codex/ . Accessed February 2019.


Povoledo, Elisabetta. “In Leonardo da Vinci’s Scientific Notebook, the Mind of a Genius at Work.” The New York Times, 30 Oct. 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/30/arts/leonardo-da-vinci-codex-leicester-uffizi.html . Accessed February 2019.


Richter, Jean Paul. The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci. Volume 1. London: Low, 1883.


Sniderman, Debbie. “Leonardo Da Vinci .” The American Society of Mechanical Engineers, April 2012, https://www.asme.org/engineering-topics/articles/history-of-mechanical-engineering/leonardo-da-vinci . Accessed February 2019.


“The Leonardo Notebook (Highlights).” The British Library, http://www.bl.uk/turning-the-pages/?id=cb4c06b9-02f4-49af-80ce-540836464a46&type=book . Accessed February 2019.


“Using Your Notebook (by Mark Henderson, ASU Polytech Engineering).” Engineering ASU Colors, Arizona State University, https://sites.google.com/a/asu.edu/engineering/using-your-notebook . Accessed February 2019.


“Water as Microscope of Nature—Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex Leicester.” Museo Galileo, https://mostre.museogalileo.it/codiceleicester/en/codex . Accessed February 2019.


Weingardt, Richard G. “Leonardo da Vinci.” Leadership and Management in Engineering, vol. 10, no. 1, 2010, https://doi.org/10.1061/(ASCE)LM.1943-5630.0000040. Accessed February 2019.