© 2017

The Structures of Practical Knowledge

  • Matteo Valleriani

Table of contents

  1. Front Matter
    Pages i-xii
  2. Matteo Valleriani
    Pages 1-19
  3. Elaine Leong
    Pages 55-75
  4. Jochen Büttner
    Pages 115-166
  5. Wolfgang Lefèvre
    Pages 247-269
  6. Ursula Klein
    Pages 287-306
  7. Back Matter
    Pages 475-491

About this book


The Structures of Practical Knowledge investigates the nature of practical knowledge – why, how, when and by whom it is codified, and once codified, how this knowledge is structured. The inquiry unfolds in a series of fifteen case studies, which range in focus from early modern Italy to eighteenth century China. At the heart of each study is a shared definition of practical knowledge, that is, knowledge needed to obtain a certain outcome, whether that be an artistic or mechanical artifact, a healing practice, or a mathematical result. While the content of practical knowledge is widely variable, this study shows that all practical knowledge is formally equivalent in following a defined workflow, as reflected in a construction procedure, a recipe, or an algorithm.

As explored in the volume’s fifteen contributions, there are three levels at which structures of practical knowledge may be understood and examined. At the most immediate level, there are the individual workflows that encompasses practical knowledge itself. Probing further, it is possible to examine the structure of practical knowledge as it is externalized and codified in texts, drawings, and artifacts such as models. Finally, practical knowledge is also related to social structures, which fundamentally determine its dissemination and evolution into new knowledge structures. The social structures of professionals and institutions represent the critical means by which practical knowledge takes form. These actors are the agents of codification, and by means of selection, appropriation, investment, and knowledge development, they determine the formation of new structures of practical knowledge. On a more abstract level, the creation of new knowledge structures is understood as constituting the basis for the further development of scientific knowledge.

Rich in subject matter and incisive in the theory it lays out, this volume represents an important contribution to the history of science and epistemology. Individually, the fifteen case studies – encompassing the history of architecture, mining, brewing, glass production, printing, ballistics, mechanics, cartography, cosmology and astronomy – are replete with original research, and offer new insights into the history of science. Taken together, the contributions remodel historical epistemology as a whole, elucidating the underlining knowledge structures that transcend disciplinary boundaries, and that unite practitioners across time and space.


Accumulation of Practical Knowledge Circulation of Practical Knowledge Restructuring of knowledge Early Modern Social Constructions Analysis of Material Conditions Methodology in the Early Modern Period Epistemic Structures of knowledge History of Methodology

Editors and affiliations

  • Matteo Valleriani
    • 1
  1. 1.Max Planck Institute for the History of ScienceBerlinGermany

About the editors

Matteo Valleriani's research focuses on the history of mechanics from classical antiquity to late Renaissance. In particular, his research intends to determine the role of the relations between practical knowledge and technology on the one side, and theoretical knowledge on the other side, within the framework of the processes of emergence of new theoretical knowledge. The research is structured on four different levels. The first level is the epistemological level that aims at formulating an epistemic theory of practical knowledge. The second level concerns mechanisms of diffusion of practical knowledge and the consequences this diffusion has in different cultures, as well as the transmission over epochs. The third level refers to the relationship between practical knowledge and natural philosophy. Finally, the fourth level analyzes the inherent points of contact between practical and theoretical knowledge and explores the mechanisms of the processes of emergence of new scientific knowledge.

Matteo Valleriani's research moreover extends the implementation of the approach used to explore mechanisms of diffusion of knowledge also to studies dedicated to the role of Aristotelian knowledge in all cultures and epochs, in which this played a relevant role.

Bibliographic information

  • Book Title The Structures of Practical Knowledge
  • Editors Matteo Valleriani
  • DOI
  • Copyright Information Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2017
  • Publisher Name Springer, Cham
  • eBook Packages History History (R0)
  • Hardcover ISBN 978-3-319-45670-6
  • Softcover ISBN 978-3-319-83343-9
  • eBook ISBN 978-3-319-45671-3
  • Edition Number 1
  • Number of Pages XII, 491
  • Number of Illustrations 24 b/w illustrations, 111 illustrations in colour
  • Topics History of Science
    Philosophy of Science
  • Buy this book on publisher's site


“The essays in the book cover a wonderfully diverse range of fields of knowledge, from theatre engineering, metalworking, woodblock printing, and astronomy to architecture, ballistics, artisanal knowledge, and brewing. … this volume contains some truly novel approaches to and insights into the structures of early modern practical knowledge.” (Marieke Hendriksen, Ambix, Vol. 66 (1), 2019)

“This collection of dense articles by numerous authors … will appeal to a very select audience—historians of science and philosophers. The articles explore the relationship between practical and theoretical knowledge in different areas of science and technology. … Summing Up: Recommended. Researchers, faculty, and professionals.” (N. Sadanand, Choice, Vol. 55 (1), September, 2017)