Published online by Cambridge University Press: 14 January 2022
The status of the knowledge of early modern craft practitioners and artisans has long been a point of contention among scholars, and several historians recently have argued that artisanal knowledge was central to the emergence of early modern science. This chapter follows attitudes towards craft practitioners and artisans, beginning in antiquity, when many philosophers argued that practical knowledge (techne) was of lesser value than theoretical knowledge (episteme). Following the elevation of the mechanical arts in the Middle Ages and the proliferation of practical how-to manuals in the Renaissance, a growing appreciation for artisanal work grew among philosophers. Renaissance humanists elevated the intellectual status of artistic practice, and iconoclasts like Paracelsus railed against knowledge gained without direct experience, praising instead the knowledge of miners and alchemists. Architects, engineers, and artisans came to embody the Renaissance ideal of the “polymath,” and practical knowledge became a central component of the philosophy of Francis Bacon, as well as the experimental science that was institutionalized by groups such as the Royal Society of London. Following postcolonial critiques of Eurocentrism, some have suggested the history of science should embrace a broader ambit that includes practitioners’ knowledge.
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