What did people who lived in the “middle ages” call it? How about people in the Renaissance? We assume they referred to it as the year of our Lord 873 or 1328 or whatever was appropriate to the calendar in use. “Renaissance” was certainly a 19th invention as was so much of the bad scholarship that we are still plagued by.
But that “scholarship” served a purpose – the reinforcement of “enlightenment” rationalism and the destruction of the last vestiges of faith, that great enemy of progress.
I can remember sitting through history lessons as a boy about how the brave Christopher Columbus defied the cruel churchmen and headed west in search of a route to the indies and their untold wealth of spices and jewels. In reality he was looking for new fishing grounds to satisfy the European need for fish – the commercial discovery of the Americas and all that went with it was one of histories great unintended consequences. Again they would not have thought themselves in the AGE OF EXPLORATION – they were simply merchants and seamen in the employment of merchants pursuing commercial and national advantage.
The Church preeminently DID NOT believe in a flat earth. Cathedrals were actually built as solar observatories in order that the equinoxes could be observed and the date of Easter – in the absence of a reliable calendar – fixed accurately.
This book is great fun – especially the history of the 19th century kooks – and is a great starting point. Hopefully your own voyage of discovery will take you a good deal father.
Flat earth : the history of an infamous idea Christine Garwood Geodesy History New York : Thomas Dunne Books, 2008 Hardcover. xii, 436 p.,  p. of plates : ill., maps ; 25 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 401-423) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG
Contrary to popular belief fostered in countless school classrooms the world over, Christopher Columbus did not discover that the earth was round. The idea of a spherical world had been widely accepted in educated circles from as early as the fourth century B.C. Yet, bizarrely, it was not until the supposedly more rational nineteenth century that the notion of a flat earth really took hold. Even more bizarrely, it persists to this day, despite Apollo missions and widely publicized pictures of the decidedly spherical Earth from space.
Based on a range of original sources, Garwood’s history of flat-Earth beliefs—from the Babylonians to the present day—raises issues central to the history and philosophy of science, its relationship to religion and the making of human knowledge about the natural world. Flat Earth is the ?rst de?nitive study of one of history’s most notorious and persistent ideas, and it evokes all the intellectual, philosophical, and spiritual turmoil of the modern age. Ranging from ancient Greece, through Victorian England, to modern-day America, this is a story that encompasses religion, science, and pseudoscience, as well as a spectacular array of people and places. Where else could eccentric aristocrats, fundamentalist preachers, and conspiracy theorists appear alongside Copernicus, Newton, and NASA, except in an account of such a legendary misconception?