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Barbara J. Shapiro traces the surprising genesis of the ""fact"", a modern concept that, she demonstrates, originated not in natural science, but in legal discourse. She follows the concept's evolution and diffusion across a variety of disciplines in early modern England, examining how the emerging ""culture of fact"" shaped the epistemological assumptions of each intellectual enterprise.;Drawing on an astonishing breadth of research, Shapiro probes the fact's changing identity from an alleged human action to a proven natural or human happening. The crucial first step in this transition occurred in the 16th century when English common law established a definition of fact which relied on eyewitnesses and testimony. The concept widened to cover natural as well as human events as a result of developments in news reportage and travel writing. Only then, Shapiro discovers, did scientific philosophy adopt the category ""fact"". With Francis Bacon advocating more stringent criteria, the witness became a vital component in scientific observation and experimentation. Shapiro also recounts how England's preoccupation with the fact influenced historiography, religion and literature - which saw the creation of a fact-oriented fictional genre, the novel.