Political Ecologies in the Renaissance

Mining > De re metallica

Georg Bauer or Georgius Agricola (1494-1555) practiced medicine in Joachimsthal and Chemnitz (both important mining towns), but he is best known for his irsthand observations about metallurgy recorded in De re metallica (1621), first published in 1556. The volume contains exhaustive presentations of many aspects of contemporary mining, including relevant philosophy and law, mine construction and management, mining tools, locating ore veins, surveying, assaying, and smelting. It is not surprising that this encyclopedicc treatise quickly replaced Pliny's Historia Naturalis as the authority on geology and mining.

De re metallica is interesting for Agricola's attempt to achieve both the universality of Latin and the local utility of the vernacular in a single text. He explains in the dedicatory letter that his choice to write in Latin is motivated by the lack of German speakers abroad. But Agricola also pairs the text's detailed descriptions with many equally detailed illustrations and includes a German-Latin glossary of key terms to make the text comprehensible to a German-speaking audience with a weak understanding of Latin.

Columbia University Libraries / Rare Book & Manuscript Library / Butler Library, 6th Fl. / 535 West 114th St. / New York, NY 10027 / (212) 854-5590 / rbml@libraries.cul.columia.edu