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Mechanicus: Performing an Early Modern Persona
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Arts, Department of History of Science and Ideas.
2015 (English)Doctoral thesis, monograph (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

This thesis studies mechanics as a means of making men, rather than machines. Drawing on Swedish sources from 1700–50, it approaches mechanics as an exercise of a virtuous subject, known to his contemporaries as the “mechanicus”. The mechanicus was a persona, consisting of expectations of the performance of mechanics that were part of the social fabric of the early modern Swedish state. The aim of this thesis is to understand how mechanical practitioners performed in relation to this persona, and how these expectations in turn were changed by actors’ performances.

By studying the mechanicus, I take an interest in historical ways of conceiving of mechanics. Previous research on early modern mechanics has tended to relate it to modern phenomena, such as engineers, technology and industrialism, and mechanical practitioners have been considered as agents of change, who brought traditional societies into modernity. Avoiding such long narratives, this thesis presents an alternative history. By following mechanical practitioners, who staged themselves as relevant to an early modern state, I seek to understand how mechanics was presented and justified in a pre-industrial society.

The thesis is comprised of four studies. First, I discuss how mature mechanical practitioners imagined the exercise of mechanics to make a boy into a mechanicus. These exercises would nurture an ideal man, encompassing a range of the expected virtues of a male subject. Second, I study mechanics and geometry at the Swedish Bureau of Mines between 1700 and 1750. I show how, from  having initially been associated with the building of machines and subterranean constructions, such knowledge formed the basis of a community of mathematical men of metals. Third, I analyse the letters exchanged between the mechanical practitioner Christopher Polhammar and the Swedish king Karl XII, showing how royal patronage of mechanics shaped both men. Finally, I follow the mechanical practitioner Anders Gabriel Duhre, who first succeeded and then failed to present himself as a virtuous mechanicus to the parliament of the Swedish constitutional monarchy of the 1720s and 1730s. Taken together, these studies show how men imagined, succeeded and failed life as a mechanicus in early modern Sweden.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Uppsala: Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis, 2015. , 233 p.
Uppsala Studies in History of Ideas, ISSN 1653-5197 ; 46
Keyword [en]
mechanics, performance, virtue, persona, mathematics, self fashioning, education, masculinity, age, oeconomy, cameralism, Sweden, eighteenth century, intergenerational relationships
National Category
History of Ideas
Research subject
History of Sciences and Ideas
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-251337ISBN: 978-91-554-9246-5OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-251337DiVA: diva2:805491
Public defence
2015-06-03, Geijersalen, Engelska parken, Thunbergsvägen 3P, Uppsala, 10:15 (Swedish)
Available from: 2015-05-12 Created: 2015-04-15 Last updated: 2015-07-07

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Orrje, Jacob
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