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Lizards, Metals, Stones, and Sands: Practical Investigations and Vernacular Knowledge Systems in Early Modern Europe

Pamela H. Smith
Columbia University
Grant Hall

A reception with light refreshments will follow the lecture. 

RSVPs are required. Please RSVP here.

Numerous remedies and techniques in early modern Europe (1400-1750) emerged out of vernacular usage and were subsequently transmitted upward to texts and text-based regimes of professional training. Such practices have often been seen as the result of so-called trial and error processes. This view, however, does not do justice to the practical material investigations of kitchens and workshops, nor to the larger knowledge systems and “material imaginaries” of natural generation and transformation that underpinned these practices. Drawing evidence from the Making and Knowing Project’s research on practical and craft knowledge, this lecture will illustrate such practical investigations and vernacular knowledge systems and argue for new narratives in the history of knowledge.

Pamela H. Smith is Seth Low professor of history at Columbia University, and founding Director of the Center for Science and Society and of its cluster project The Making and Knowing Project (  Her articles and books examine craft and practice, and its relationship to scientific knowledge. The Body of the Artisan (2004), and From Lived Experience to the Written Word: Reconstructing Practical Knowledge in the Early Modern World (Chicago 2022) make a case for treating craft/art as a way of knowing. Her edited volumes, Ways of Making and Knowing (ed. with Amy R. W. Meyers and Harold Cook, pbk 2017) and The Matter of Art (ed. with Christy Anderson and Anne Dunlop, pbk 2016), treat materiality, making and meaning. An edited volume, Entangled Itineraries: Materials, Practices, and Knowledges across Eurasia (2019), deals with the movement of materials and knowledge across Eurasia before 1800. In a collaborative research and teaching initiative, The Making and Knowing Project, she and the Making and Knowing Team investigate the intersection of craft making and scientific knowing by text-, object-, and laboratory-based research on the technical and artistic recipes contained in a sixteenth-century French manuscript BnF Ms. Fr. 640. In 2020 they released a digital critical edition and English translation of the manuscript, Secrets of Craft and Nature in Renaissance France.


As part of Dr. Smith's visit to Queen's, she will also give a workshop sponsored by the Department of Art History and Art ConservationHands-On History: Exploring Secrets of Craft and Nature in your Kitchen.

The session will introduce methodology of historical reconstruction using the hands-on resources developed by the Making and Knowing Project for use with Secrets of Craft and Nature in Renaissance France. A Digital Critical Edition and English Translation of BnF Ms. Fr. 640. Following introductory search and analysis exercises, there will be a hands-on session; participants are encouraged to bring a laptop, clothing they don't mind getting dirty, and "a sense of adventure".

The workshop will happen on Friday, March 3 from 1:00-4:00pm in the André Biéler Studio at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre. Graduate students in History, Art History, and Art Conservation and upper-year undergraduate students in the BFA program may apply to attend the workshop. The application deadline is Feb. 20, 2023.

Department of History, Queen's University

49 Bader Lane, Watson Hall 212
Kingston ON K7L 3N6




Queen's University is situated on traditional Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe territory.