Working Knowledge: Technical Practices, Social
Identities, and Expertise in Early Modern Europe
BY THOMAS BROMAN*
PAMELA O . LONG. Artisan/Practitioners and the Rise of the New Sciences, 14001600. Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 2011. xii -|- 196 pp., illus., index.
ISBN 978-0-87071-609-6. $22.95 (paper).
ERIC L. ASH, ed. Expertise: Practical Knowledge and the Early Modem State.
Osiris 2nd Series, vol. 25. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010. 259 pp., illus., index. ISBN 978-0-226-02939-9. $33.00 (paper).
CHANDRA MUKERJI. Impossible Engineering: Technology and Territoriality on the Canal du Midi. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009. xix -|- 304 pp., illus., index. ISBN 978-0-691-14032-2. $42.00 (hardcover).
In the contemporary historiography of science, there can be little doubt that practice rules. Whereas formerly a strict division was routinely drawn between the idea of science as a set of theoretical propositions and the seemingly more mundane experimental work that sustained those theories and elaborated on them, emphasis is now placed on the centrality of material practices, laboratory routines, and social negotiations as the fundamental units for understanding how scientific knowledge is created and evolves. "Theory," if it be conceded any place at all in our accounts, appears to merit at best a secondary role, a byproduct of what we designate as science more than its signature manifestation. The focus on scientific practice has yielded a bounty of new insights on topics long overlooked in the historiography of early modern science, including botany and cartography, the administration of overseas empires, and the trade in goods and information that increasingly came to dominate European societies.
One prominent theme in these studies is that the Scientific Revolution emerged 'Department of History of Science, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 210 Bradley
Memorial, 1225 Linden Ave., Madison, WT 53706; email@example.com.
Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences, Vol. 44, Number i, pps. 80-89. ISSN i939-i8n, electronic ISSN 1939-182X. © 2014 by the Regents of the University of California. All rights reserved. Please direct all requests for permission to photocopy or reproduce article content through the University of California Press's Rights and Permissions website, http:// www.ucpressjournals.com/reprintinfo.asp. DOI: io.i525/hsns.2Oi4.44.i.8o. 80 I
BOOK REVIEWS 81 not from debates between partisans of different cosmological and naturalphilosophical systems, but instead from an immersion in trade in medicinal plants and other goods, the techniques of produaion, and the objects of natural history.' A new emphasis on personal experience as a source of empirical knowledge developed from such sources.
The three volumes reviewed here all share this emphasis on practice or "working knowledge," with each offering a different point of view. Pamela
Long's Artisan/Practitioners and the Rise of the New Sciences, 1400—1600 contributes to the long-standing debate over how the experiential knowledge and writings of artisans contributed to the Scientific Revolution.^ Chandra
Mukerji's Impossible Engineering and the Osiris volume edited by Eric Ash,
Expertise: Practical Knowledge and the Early Modem State, engage instead another familiar marker of early modernity, the rise of the state. Mukerji aims to show how a large, complicated technological project such as the seventeenth-century
Canal du Midi in France provides a window onto the emergence of what she describes as "impersonal rule." The öri'm volume, meanwhile, draws its concept of expertise from recent STS literature on the role of experts in government consultation and in legal proceedings, and how credentialed and uncredentialed experts pardcipate in the resolution of scientific controversies. Although the inspiration for the volume's analytical framework comes from recent sources, the studies in it are rooted in the early modem world, a time when the personal politics of the ruler's court had begun to evolve into the bureaucratic and ministerial regimes of the early modern state.
Originally delivered as the Horning Lectures at Oregon State University in 2010, Long's Artisan/Practitioners provides a splendid summary of the work of an historian who has shaped the recent historiography on the role of artisans and technical knowledge in the Scientific Revolution. In Long's view, an interlocking set of novelties can be detected beginning in the fifteenth century that decisively shaped the new science. First, a rising level of 1. For samples of this literature, see Maria M. Portuondo, Secret Science: Spanish Cosmography and the New VS^ ortí (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009); Londa Schiebinger and Claudia
Swan, eds.. Colonial Botany: Science, Commerce, and Politics in the Early Modem World (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005); Daniela Bleichmar, Kristin Huffine, and Kevin
Sheehan, eds.. Science in the Spanish and Portuguese Empires (Stanford, CA: Stanford University
Press, 2009); and Harold J. Cook, Matters of Exchange: Commerce, Medicine, and Science in the
Dutch Golden Age (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2007). 2. For a similar perspective, see Pamela H. Smith, The Body of the Artisan: Art and Experience in the Scientific Revolution (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004). 82 BROMAN commercial activity generated new levels of affluence in the Italian states, and in turn this yielded new consumption of luxury goods. Skilled artisans benefited from this increased consumption, acquiring both status and material prosperity from the patronage they enjoyed. These developments in turn led to the emergence of new attitudes with respect to two conceptual dyads that are key for Long—the relationship between "nature" and "art," and between "scholar" and "craftsman." Readers acquainted with medieval and early modern history will immediately appreciate why these pairings occupy a prominent place in Long's analysis. The distinction between art and nature was mirrored in contemporary thinking by another distinction between theory and practice, with theory and the study of nature's eternal verities being housed in universities, institutions that were also involved with forging scholarly identities. Thus in Long's account, the growing afHuence of the fifteenth century (first in Italy and then elsewhere in Europe) destabilized the established relationships between nature-theory-scholar and art-practicecraftsman.