The history of the ways of thinking which characterise the Age of Enlightenment can be traced back to late medieval humanism. The development of cementation steelmaking in early 17th century England was one of the earliest concrete expressions of an ‘enlightenment’ mode of thought. At one level there is a material connection between the products of such furnaces and the growing
Enlightenment—cementation steel was used to create the weapons of the civil war, and provided instruments which drove forward a scientific revolution from late in the 17th century. However, at another level there is a more complex relationship between different ideas about how the world was structured. This paper will argue that the design, construction and operation of these furnaces formed a deliberately rational act at the dawn of the capitalist era: the very act of steelmaking was a bridge between humanism and the Enlightenment.
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