Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Diderot, The Father of Tech Ed

The Smith's Forge, Diderot
            When enlightenment philosopher Denis Diderot created the Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers,  he sought to provide a collection of all knowledge relating to the practical arts, sciences, and technology existing in the 18th century.  Wrote Diderot, "Indeed, the purpose of an encyclopedia is to collect knowledge disseminated around the globe; to set forth its general system to the men with whom we live, and transmit it to those who will come after us, so that the work of preceding centuries will not become useless to the centuries to come; and so that our offspring, becoming better instructed, will at the same time become more virtuous and happy, and that we should not die without having rendered a service to the human race." [1]

Tools of the Smith, Diderot
          Diderot's Encyclopédie was a collection of articles published in several volumes in collaboration with such enlightenment luminaries as Voltaire, Montesquieu, and Rousseau among others, from 1751-1765.  The publication of the accompanying engraved plates was completed by 1772.[2]  Diderot and company leave us an invaluable record of the scientist, philosopher and craftsman, including articles and diagrams on topics ranging from naval tactics, manual of arms and blacksmithing to carpentry, snares and ichthiology.[3]  Diderot left "...an important heritage for our understanding of the development of technology, especially the ways it has been organized and represented for the purposes of dissemination..." in his "...systematic method of representing the mechanical arts." [4]

The Boxmaker, Diderot

         While Diderot's folios would have probably been far too expansive not to mention expensive to grace the library of a middling tradesman, they certainly contain information and methods that would have been handed down from Master to Apprentice in the 18th century.  As for this "Jack of  All Trades", I will consult it often as mechanick and craftsman.


"Do you see a man who excels in his work? He will stand before kings; He will not stand before unknown men."                              
                                                                           -Proverbs 22:29

[1] Vol. 5 (1755), p. 635, trans. Philip Stewart, Ann Arbor, Univ. of Michigan., 2002.

[2] The Plates of Diderot's Encyclopedie at Univ. of Michigan Collaborative Translation Project (CTP).

[3] The Articles of Diderot's Encyclopedie at Univ. of Michigan CTP.

[4] Diderot, the Mechanical Arts, and the Encyclopédie... by John R. Pannabecker.

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