Practical Areas of Expertise and Science

Practical Areas of Expertise and Science in Early Modern Europe


The Royal Prussian Porcelain Manufactory, drawing from 1818 by Eduard Gaertner; courtesy of the Stiftung Stadtmuseum Berlin.

As recent historiography has shown, the early modern craftsmen and artisans were more inventive and less reluctant to change as was traditionally assumed. Notwithstanding this fact, the majority of early modern craftsmen and artisans neither took up elements of higher learning from scholarly traditions nor introduced written communication and formal representation of their own. However, there were practitioners who did both (i.e. who read scholarly texts and wrote texts, ranging from recipes to formal representation). Among the latter, we may distinguish two major groups: (1) experts mobilized and supported by the court, city or state bureaucracy; (2) private artisans such as goldsmiths, apothecaries and surgeons. My paper will compare two significant eighteenth-century examples of the two groups: mining officials and apothecaries in Prussia. The question informing my comparison concerns the "common ground" (structure?) – social, economic, epistemic – of the artisanal-scientific activities of these different types of practitioners.

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