chapter  5
CAN ARTISANS BE SCIENTIFIC AUTHORS? The Unique Case of Fraunhofer’s Artisanal Optics and the German Republic of Letters
Pages 20

Joseph von Fraunhofer (1787-1826) was a rather remarkable figure in the history of science and technology. He was a working-class optician whose work on physical optics revolutionized the production of achro­ matic glass, telescopes, heliometers, and ordnance surveying instru­ ments. He served as a bridge that spanned two distinctive, yet critically linked communities: artisans and savants, or scientific instrument makers and Naturwissenschaftler. Although instrument makers had been crucial to the scientific enterprise since the Scientific Revolution, by the early nineteenth century, experimental natural philosophers gen­ erally could not do without these artisans, as few savants possessed the necessary manual skills to build their instruments. Yet artisans were rarely granted the status of experimental philosopher for three reasons. First, as I have argued elsewhere, the importance of secrecy to the arti­

sanal trade was seen as anathema to the Republic of Letters, whose members prided themselves on the openness of scientific knowledge.1 Second, savants were reluctant to accept artisans as their intellectual equals, as craftsmen were members of a commercial nexus and financial interests tainted their work.2 And finally, members of the Republic of Letters argued that instrument makers merely manipulated preexisting materials; they did not create anything. This slavish “following of craft rules” was deemed as the antithesis of creative, scientific knowledge.