In Elizabethan London, one of the more surprising things a wealthy owner of a beautifully illustrated folio volume could do was to take a sharp knife and cut it to pieces. John Blagrave’s 1585 Mathematical Jewel, in fact, demands nothing less. This work, which introduced an elaborate instrument of Blagrave’s design for performing astronomical calculations, … Continue reading More than a Manual: Early-Modern Mathematical Instrument Books
On November 4, 1646, Sir Theodore de Mayerne (1573–1655), first physician to Charles I and the English Aristocracy, decided to spend his day away from his demanding patients and to devote his attention to the vibrant world of colors. He took a good handful of bilberries and carefully inspected the color of their peel and … Continue reading The Manual as Artifact: On Artists’ Manuals and Craftsmen’s Handbooks
In premodern China, the population was roughly divided according to professions into four groups: literati, farmers, artisans, and merchants. During this period, artisanal knowledge was mainly transmitted in person. Most Chinese artisans were not as literate as their European counterparts, if literate at all, and written texts played a minor role in the transmission of … Continue reading Popular and Specialist Artisanal Knowledge in China, Mid-Thirteenth to Early Twentieth Centuries
When the alchemist-priest Antonio Neri published his L’Arte Vetraria in 1612, the universe of codified knowledge could finally include a major work entirely devoted to glassmaking. Although the Florentine friar was by no means the first to provide instructions on how to make glass (recipe texts are known from the second millennium BCE), never before … Continue reading Rewriting the Book: Archaeology and Experimental Glass from the First British Colony in America
In 1721, the Dutch craftsman Willem van Laer (1674–1722) published a Guidebook for Upcoming Gold- and Silversmiths. Intended as a manual to educate young novices, the Guidebook discussed a variety of different practices, techniques, and skills that ranged from assays to determine the quality of precious metals to sand mold casting and polishing (Figure 1). … Continue reading Vicissitudes in Soldering: Reading and Working with a Historical Gold- and Silversmithing Manual
Pamela H. Smith, "Why Write a Book? From Lived Experience to the Written Word in Early Modern Europe," Bulletin of the German Historical Institute 47 (Fall 2010): 25–50.
In this article, Pamela Smith links the tacit and explicit knowledge of artisans in an innovative way. See also Jonathan Sheehan's interesting review of Smith's related book, The Body of the Artisan: Art and Experience in the Scientific Revolution (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2004).