Artisans and Natural Philosophers in the Early Nineteenth Century: Joseph von Fraunhofer and the Response to his Optical Glassmaking

This talk deals tells the story of one of the leading achromatic-lens makers of the 19th century who revolutionized astronomy, the German optician Joseph von Fraunhofer, whose name is associated with the dark lines that transect the solar spectrum. His knowledge and techniques were jealously guarded secrets. Precisely because of this secrecy, the British were at a loss to recreate his lenses. The various political epistemologies of leading British experimental natural philosophers with respect to Fraunhofer’s artisanal optics map nicely onto the various contours of Britain of the 1820s and ‘30s, such as the role of mechanization in society, royal patronage of the sciences, industrial efficiency, economic growth, and the reform of patent laws to protect inventors and guarantee creativity and economic success. It is a story about the communicability of artisanal and scientific knowledge, political economy, social class, and skill. It is also a story about the relationship between manual and intellectual work at a time when both were undergoing rather profound changes.



Myles Jackson


Albers-Schönberg Professor in the History of Science