Why you would take this class if you are interested in history


            Since this is declared to be a course in the history of modern science, the answer to this question may seem obvious: it is – essentially- a history class, taking us into the Saxony of reformation and renaissance-humanism, at a time when new political and economic challenges arose from the huge silver finds in the Erzgebirge. Not only will we explore the need for the inclusion of observation and measurement in science, but we will observe and learn about all aspects of society at the time.


            The instructors of the course are not historians, and thus had to travel themselves into terra incognita in order to be able to figure out how to teach this course. We have found collaborators at the Bergakademie Freiberg, which has an Institute for the History of Science and Technology. The director of the institute, Professor Dr. Helmuth Albrecht, was kind enough to offer support with this endeavor, which will take shape in the form of guest lectures, as well as a close collaboration with students at this institute. This will give us the opportunity, for example, to visit an active archeological digging site in Chemnitz, where the long-lost site of the copper liquation smelter from the 16th century has been found just last year. This smelter is believed to have been described in detail in Agricola’s De re metallica, but the location had been unknown. We can read the description in the book before visiting the site of this exciting discovery. Another opportunity includes to pair up with Freiberg students in order to do some archival work in the library of the Bergakademie Freiberg. Founded in 1763, the collection contains quite a few interesting scripts, among them one of the original colored editions of De re metallica.


Elector of Saxony August and his wife Anna, Lucas Cranach d. Ä. (Stadt– und Bergmuseum Freiberg)


            Personally, I experienced the preparations for this course like an adventure trip, which allowed me to view my own home area through completely new eyes. Putting places and events into a time-line of my own, making connections, experiencing locations, views, distances, the darkness of mines, the taste of food … it all became one journey into long-lost times, and helped me appreciate several things about humankind, which I may not have been aware of enough before. Those include

-         the observation that the struggle about the sustainability of human society is probably as old as society itself

-         that intellectual progress and renewal is a path of errors and doubt, but that there is an ingenuity to the ways nature is understood even if the basic assumptions are flawed

-         that there were really smart and courageous people in the 16th century. I am not sure we are smarter now, despite more knowledge.

-         That the hardest-working people often are the poorest in possession, but the richest in tradition and humanness.

-         That any landscape has a lot more dimensions than just the 2d of the surface. It includes a geological history but also a human history. You never only look at a wooded mountain; you look at a basaltic hard core of a volcano, which may have formed ore deposits in those fault lines over there due to intrusion of hydrothermal fluids. Much later those men came to chip into the rock with hammers and irons, working their lives away in the darkness for little light to enjoy on Sundays. Its firs are straight and tall and promise to make great mine supports, while giving last dwindling resort to the wild animals. The caves under the outcrops may have served as hide-outs from the Swedes during the 30 Years’ War in the early 17th century, or later, when even darker times went through this land. That house over there is 600 years old, and has seen it all – come and go, and still persists.

-         We tend to give our own time too much importance. But then again – this is all we can do.


That’s certainly not a complete list, and I am sure that you will bring your own previous knowledge and experience to this course. Come along and have your own adventure.


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