Divining Science

Treasure Hunting and Earth Science in Early Modern Germany


The study of German mining and metallurgy has focused overwhelmingly on labor, capitalism, and progressive engineering and earth science. This book addresses prospecting practices and mining culture. Using the divining, or dowsing rod as a means of exposing miner beliefs, it argues that a robust vernacular science preceded institutionalized geology in Saxony, and that the Freiberg Mining Academy (f.1765) became a site for the synthesis of tradition and new science. The tacit knowledge of dowsing was the mark of the experienced prospector, and rather than decline in importance through the Enlightenment, the practice transformed from a study of mineral vapors into an experimental branch of geophysics. Mining administrations openly hired practitioners through the eighteenth century.
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EUR €115.00USD $155.00

Biographical Note

Warren Alexander Dym, Ph.D. (2005) in History, University of California, Davis, is presently visiting assistant professor at University of Miami. He publishes on German mining and earth science history.

Review Quotes

"Dym marshals an impressive array of sources, ranging from mining archives to philosophical treatises, to make his case. He finds, contrary to what we might expect, that the practice of dowsing persisted even as high-profile Enlightenment writers ridiculed it. This disjunction between published mining theory and the practice of prospecting—an incongruity that proved especially striking in Freiberg itself—is one of the revelations of the book." – Andre Wakefield, in: Isis 103/1 (March 2012), pp. 175-177
"Full of surprises, not the least of which is the author’s skill in applying a deeper and more generous historiography to the entire scope of his subject than did earlier historians. Among the author’s strengths is his familiarity with past and current work in the histories of mining and geology, and his recognition of the relevance of subjects like alchemy and dowsing to our increasing knowledge of early modern mineral science." – John A. Norris
"Warren Dym’s book is a pleasure to read. The story he unfolds is engagingly told and full of rare and often hitherto unused sources, which give a good idea of the daily practice of dowsing and the role and craft skills of dowers in the mining community of Saxony between the time of Agricola and the early years of the Freiberg Mining Academy. … the formal aspect of the book is highly recommendable." – Martina Kölbl-Ebert, in: Metascience [published online 5 July 2011]
" Divining Science thus offers considerable treasures for those interested in the relations between magic, science, witchcraft, folklore, and popular culture anywhere in early modern Europe, as well as for those interested in the impacts of increasing state control during this era. The extremely handy one-page ‘‘Glossary of Mining and Metallurgical Terms’’ is in itself a godsend for Germanists. ... highly recommended to all scholars with even a passing interest in any of the topics outlined above." – Alix Cooper, in: Renaissance Quarterly 64/3 (Fall 2011), pp. 934-936

Table of contents

List of Figures
Glossary of Mining and Metallurgical Terms


1. White Gold on Spitzberg Hill
2. Magic, Witchcraft, and the Nature of the Rod
3. Mining Science: Vernacular Knowledge
4. True Stories of Freiberg Dowsers
5. The Murderous Matter: Dowsing and New Science
6. The Electric Rod: Dowsing and the Freiberg Mining Academy


Selected Bibliography


All those interested in science and technology studies, history of science and magic, artisanal and tacit knowledge, history of geology, social and cultural history of Germany.


Collection Information