In the nineteenth century, scientific practice underwent a dramatic transformation from personal endeavor to business enterprise. In Spectrum of Belief, Myles Jackson uses the career of the optician Joseph von Fraunhofer (1787-1826) to probe the relationship between science and society, and that between artisans and experimental natural philosophers, during this transformation.
Fraunhofer came from a long line of glassmakers Orphaned at the age of 11, he became an apprentice to the court decorative glass cutter Philipp Anton Weichselberger of Munich. At 19, bored with his work and angered by his master's refusal to allow him to study optical theory, Fraunhofer took a position at the Optical Institute assisting in the manufacture of achromatic lenses. Within 10 years he was producing the world's finest achromatic lenses and prisms.
Housed in an old Benedictine monastery, Fraunhofer's laboratory mirrored the labor of the monks. Because of his secrecy (after his death, even those who had worked most closely with him could not achieve his success), British experimental natural philosophers were unable to reproduce his work. This secrecy, while guaranteeing his institute's monopoly, thwarted Fraunhofer's attempts to gain credibility within the scientific community, which looked down on artisanal work and was affronted by its clandestine practices. The response to the ensuing rise of German optical
technology sheds light on crucial social, economic, and political issues of the period, such as mechanization, the reform of patent laws, the role of skills in both physics and society, the rise of Mechanics' Institutes, and scientific patronage. After his death, Fraunhofer's example was used to argue for the merging of scientific research and technological innovation with industrial and state support in the newly united Germany.
"Glass, Myles Jackson shows us, is the least transparent of all substances. By following the competition, patents, artisanship, secrecy, bribery, and espionage that surrounded Joseph von Fraunhofer's production of optical glass, Jackson reveals an unfamiliar world of science. This is textured history from below, history in the guilds done by artisans and laborers. But Spectrum of Belief is more than that, as Jackson ably moves outwards from the artisanal soil to the view from Berlin, from Britain, and even from the 'canonization' of Fraunhofer as an ideal of pan-Germanic culture in late-nineteenth-century Germany. Anyone wanting to understand early-nineteenth-century science from the ground up should read this book."
Peter Galison, Mallinckrodt Professor of The History of Science and of Physics, Harvard University
"In this intelligent and careful book, Myles Jackson explains the basis of Fraunhofer's triumphs and their place in European scientific, economic, and social milieux. Using graphic illustration and compelling analysis, he unlocks the worlds of cloistered artisans, learned savants, and cunning entrepreneurs. He shows how the British failed to reproduce Fraunhofer's recipes with a mix of mathematics, experiment, and bribery, and how the Germans succeeded in turning the Bavarian artisan into an imperial hero sprung directly from traditional soil. In so doing, Jackson offers an indispensable guide to the roots of the modern technological and economic order, and to the puzzles of customary skill and rational scientific management, which stay as current today as they were two centuries ago."
Simon Schaffer, University of Cambridge