Before entering public service, Herbert Hoover was a successful and wealthy mining engineer. In fact, he and his wife, Lou Henry Hoover, both majored in geology at Stanford University. In 1905, Lou attempted to find an adequate English translation of the medieval mining treatise De Re Metallica by Georgius Agricola. Because classical Latin is not abundantly supplied with appropriate technical terms, and those which exist are not always clear, previous attempts at translation had proven inadequate. Lou decided to use her knowledge of Latin and geology, and Herbert’s knowledge of mine engineering, to attempt an authoritative translation. They worked every spare hour on it from 1907 until 1912, and their translation included extensive introductory material, footnotes, and appendices.
Agricola had had to invent most of his Latin technical terms, and all the previous translators had butchered them. With extraordinary care, the Hoovers deciphered Agricola’s intent. They undertook detailed studies of medieval Latin semantics and medieval units of measure. Herbert even did laboratory experiments to check Agricola’s descriptions. In short, the Hoovers’ annotations constituted the most comprehensive history of mining that had ever been written. The Hoovers won many accolades for their brilliant scholarship, including the first gold medal ever awarded by the Mining and Metallurgical Society of America.
The Hoovers’ translation of “De Re Metallica” was republished in 1950 by Dover, and the paperback version is still in print.
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Agricola’s work was also credited with recognizing the occupational diseases associated with the metal mining trade. Pliny the Elder was credited for using animal bladders as a form of respiratory protective equipment for the miners.