Sharing Practices in Metallurgy

Sharing Practices in Metallurgy: The Codification of Vernacular Theories of Metallic Generation in sixteenth-century European Mining and Metalworking

Pamela H. Smith


Backside of the painting Annaberger Bergaltar by Hans Hesse (St. Annenkirche, Annaberg-Buchholz, 1522).

This paper attempts to trace early modern European theories about the generation of metals and minerals as they emerged out of the physical experience of miners laboring in the earth and were codified and transformed by learned physicians in sixteenth-century Erzgebirge. I thus attempt to locate in the historically specific example of sixteenth-century Saxon silver mining a reciprocal dynamic by which the particular properties of materials give rise to practices and objects, which themselves produce systems of belief that, in their turn, further inform both practices and ideas—sometimes, as in this example, codified in texts—about the properties of materials.