Ways of Knowing in Early Modern Germany: Johannes Praetorius as a Witness to his Time, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Ways of Knowing in Early Modern Germany

Johannes Praetorius as a Witness to his Time, 1st Edition

By Gerhild Scholz Williams


260 pages

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pub: 2006-04-25
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Gerhild Scholz Williams's Ways of Knowing in Early Modern Germany: Johannes Praetorius as a Witness to His Time, reviews key discourses in eight of Praetorius's works. She introduces the modern reader to the kinds of subjects, the intellectual and spiritual approaches to them, and the genres that this educated and productive German scholar and polymath presented to his audience in the seventeenth century. By relating these individual works to a number of contemporaneous writings, Williams shows how Praetorius constructed a panorama in print in which wonders, the occult, the emerging scientific way of thinking, family and social mores are recurrent themes. Included in Praetorius's portrait of the mid-seventeenth-century are discussions of Paracelsus's scientific theories and practice; early modern German theories on witchcraft and demonology and their applications in the seventeenth century. Furthermore, we read about the early modern beginnings of ethnography, anthropology, and physical geography; gender theory, early modern and contemporary notions of intellectual property, and competing and sometimes conflicting early modern scientific and theological explanations of natural anomalies. Moreover, throughout his work and certainly in those texts chosen for this study, Praetorius appears before us as an assiduous reporter of contemporary European and pan-European events and scientific discoveries, a critic of common superstitions, as much a believer in occult causes and signs and in God's communication with His people. In his writings, in his way of telling, he offers strategies by which to comprehend the political, social, and intellectual uncertainties of his century and, in so doing, identifies ways to confront the diverse interpretive authorities and the varieties of structures of knowledge that interacted and conflicted with each other in the public arena of knowing.


'Gerhild Scholz Williams's learned and elegantly written study provides a beautifully coherent analysis of Paetorius's thought and of the seventeenth-century intellectual culture that informed it… Williams's skillful analysis of a broad selection of his writings provides numerous examples of his diverse 'ways of knowing' as it also provides fascinating insight into the lives of early modern men and women in the area of Leipzig. This exemplary study includes extensive, carefully-composed footnotes after each chapter and a blibliography.' Renaissance Quarterly ’… lively and engagingly written study… Scholz Williams does an admirable job of bringing Praetorius's work and world to life in all its 'exuberant incoherence'. In doing so, she gives us a vibrant picture of a man who was arguably more representative of his age than the 'revolutionary' thinkers more familiar to historians of science.’ Isis ’… a highly accessible book that provides an intellectually satisfying and often entertaining read… Williams's book, in short, is highly recommended reading as a contribution that allows us to attempt to understand Praetorius in his context without having to 'make sense' of him except on his own terms.’ H-Net Review ’Scholz Williams is to be commended for capturing […] the breadth and depth of Praetorius's vision… This is a book worth reading and worth reading closely. Gerhild Scholz Williams, in placing before our eyes a largely forgotten body of literature, poses some significant questions about the nature of historical and scientific knowledge, about the task of the scholar, and about the construction of knowledge. It is a far more ambitious book than the title might suggest. And consequently, few books that I have read so call out for answers to the unanswered questions that stalk its pages like Rübezahl in the mountains of Silesia.’ Sixteenth Century Journal

Table of Contents

Contents: Introduction; Wondrous people: early modern diversity (Anthropodemus plutonic); Demonology and topography: locating giants and witches; The global and the local: wonders in the news; Gender and class: the woman's lot; Conclusion; Bibliography; Index.

About the Author

Gerhild Scholz Williams is Barbara Schaps Thomas and David M. Thomas Professor in the Humanities and Associate Vice Chancellor at Washington University in St. Louis, USA.

About the Series

Literary and Scientific Cultures of Early Modernity

Literary and Scientific Cultures of Early Modernity
For more than a decade now, Literary and Scientific Cultures of Early Modernity has provided a forum for groundbreaking work on the relations between literary and scientific discourses in Europe, during a period when both fields were in a crucial moment of historical formation. We welcome proposals that address the many overlaps between modes of imaginative writing typical of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries”poetics, rhetoric, prose narrative, dramatic production, utopia”and the vocabularies, conceptual models, and intellectual methods of newly emergent 'scientific' fields such as medicine, astronomy, astrology, alchemy, psychology, mapping, mathematics, or natural history. In order to reflect the nature of intellectual inquiry during the period, the series is interdisciplinary in orientation and publishes monographs, edited collections, and selected critical editions of primary texts relevant to an understanding of the mutual implication of literary and scientific epistemologies.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
LITERARY CRITICISM / Comparative Literature