Timing the Textbook: Capitalism, Development, and Western Knowledge in the Nineteenth-Century

Circa 1835, following a survey of recent Dutch publications in shogunal collections, the Japanese physician Koseki San’ei (1787–1839) concluded that among the strengths of new European approaches to education, a proactive attitude toward the power of cheap pedagogical print was paramount. European countries, Koseki declared, “produce affordable and easy-to-understand books on all arts and sciences, give them to impoverished scholars, and by doing so verse them in the arts and sciences.” “It is through this,” he maintained, “that they foster talent.”1

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Why Manuals and Handbooks? Why Now?

In one month, an international group of almost 40 scholars will convene at Princeton for four days to discuss manuals and handbooks. We—Angela Creager, Elaine Leong, Kerstin von der Krone, and Mathias Grote, aka the organizers—are absolutely thrilled about what will be a great event to explore a novel field of study, straddling continents and ages, bringing together our field, the history of science/knowledge, with the history of the book and media. In posts added to this blog in the coming weeks, we aim to get the ball rolling among our participants and visitors, but we’d also like to start a conversation with everybody interested in this subject—not least since we received more than 150 applications to our conference and were not able to accommodate many promising proposals. So consider this a little virtual conference before the conference.

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Learning by the Book: Manuals and Handbooks in the History of Knowledge

Manuals and handbooks are widely disseminated tools in the production and circulation of knowledge, used not only in education, science, and technology, but also in broader social and cultural contexts, such as the arts, religion, business, and politics. Undertaking to present a concise body of knowledge on a specific subject, they serve as reference and instructional works about particular subjects and related practices and procedures. Originally in the form of compact books or brochures, they were easy to carry around, ready to use when needed. The claim to present the most comprehensive knowledge on a particular topic also produced less handy versions of handbooks, however, even multivolume reference works. In recent years, many handbooks have morphed into electronic tools accessible on our mobile devices, available almost everywhere.

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Visual Epistemology and a Short History of the Monstrous Races

As nations brace to firm up their borders in 2017, a short history of people who inhabited the periphery reminds us of the role boundaries played in an earlier era of globalization. The early woodcuts that helped define this periphery offer a window into the history of knowledge about the Other and also tell us something about the early stages of visual epistemology.

Throughout antiquity and the middle ages, a lively band of monsters lived along the edge of the known world. While discrediting the humanity of certain specimens of mankind has a venerable tradition in the history of othering, at some point, the monstrous assumed human form. In the sixteenth century, temporary visas were issued to these monstrous races and they became human. We have something to learn from the scrutiny generated by this close-up view, a relativism almost forgotten in contemporary treatment of outsiders. The visualization of the Other helped to stabilize subjects for investigation and gave rise to new knowledge structures.

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‘Why Write a Book? From Lived Experience to the Written Word…’

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).