Philological and artisanal knowledge making in renaissance natural history: A study in cultures of knowledge

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John Caius and Conrad Gessner were both medical men who practiced philology at a high level. Caius edited Greek medical texts. He became an expert at finding and collating manuscripts. Gessner edited Greek texts of many kinds. He set a new standard for systematic bibliography. Close friends, they collaborated energetically. Gessner stimulated Caius’s interest in the relations of languages, and Caius supplied information and illustrations for Gessner’s works on natural history. Their case seems to attest the unity of learning in the sixteenth century. Yet Gessner made clear that he saw direct observation, not philological research, as the chief source of knowledge about the natural world. And Caius, when studying animals, fish, and plants, relied on information provided by unlearned men whose empirical knowledge and tacit expertise he trusted. Both saw philology and natural history as different cultures of knowledge, which employed distinct practices—though the two men also held that the same person could inhabit, and shape, both cultures at the same time. Their case suggests that a binary division between forms of research was already emerging in the Renaissance—and that a given individual might toggle between these forms as subject matter demanded.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)39-55
Number of pages17
JournalHistory of Humanities
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Arts and Humanities


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