From secrets to science: Technical writing, utility, and the hermetic tradition in Agricola's de re Metallica

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Abstract

Technical writing is rooted in books of Hermetic secrets and mining lore. Hermetic texts, written in the early centuries A.D.., were based in experiential/ experimental knowledge of illiterate people and were written as recipes for manipulating nature. Set against the legitimate, text-based academic knowledge of the time, this proto-scientific knowledge was called "secret" to give it authority through revelation. In the mid-1500s, Agricola combined the traditions of Hermetic secrets and handbooks to compile mining lore into De Re Metallica, in which he sought to write clearly and simply, illustrate information with graphics, and rationalize the use of occult knowledge based on its utility. This early technical text paved the way for philosophers, such as Francis Bacon, to legitimate scientific knowledge based on experience/ experiments as being more "beneficial" for social organization than knowledge based on a priori textual authority and speculation in the then-dominant Scholastic tradition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages353-359
Number of pages7
Volume27
No4
Specialist publicationJournal of Technical Writing and Communication
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 1997
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Communication
  • Education

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