The Sources of Hydraulic Knowledge. The Formation of Hydraulic Experts in the Southern German Lands, c. 1550–1650

If the figure of the engineer began to emerge in the early modern period, it was not until the nineteenth century that polytechnic schools offered formal technical training. Before then, engineers learnt their trade just like other craftsmen, through apprenticeships in workshops and on building sites. For many, written sources also played an important role, from contemporary machine books to translations of ancient classics of technical literature. This paper will focus on the specific figure of the hydraulic engineer, asking where hydraulic skills were taught and learnt in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Two locales in particular will be singled out as significant for the training of hydraulic experts: cities and mines.

The free Imperial city of Augsburg was regularly cited in contemporary literature as a prominent centre of hydraulic knowledge: Girolamo Cardano reproduced one of the city’s pumping works in his De Subtilitate (1554), while Henning Groβ dedicated his 1620 German translation of Agostino Ramelli’s machine compendium to the city’s Rat. This prominence was also evident in practice: neighbouring cities and polities regularly asked Augsburg’s municipal officials to provide expert opinions on hydraulic matters. Focusing on how-to manuals and apprenticeship contracts, this paper will analyse the mechanisms of knowledge transmission in the Reichsstadt.

These documents will also highlight the importance of the mining sector as a source of hydraulic expertise, and as a major investor in hydraulic innovations. Many of the hydraulic technologies deployed in urban contexts, indeed, had first been developed and tested underground, in pits and shafts. Accordingly, many of the experts on whose services cities like Augsburg relied had first learnt their trade in mines, which can likened to early modern universities of hydraulics. This paper will focus in particular on the ties between Augsburg and mines in the Tyrol and Upper Hungary (Slovakia).