Learning by the Book: Manuals and Handbooks in the History of Knowledge (May–June 2018)

Often overlooked, handbooks, protocols, and manuals are key in the making, preserving, and sharing of knowledge. Before meeting in Princeton, NJ, for a four-day conference, participants published short pieces on this blog. The idea behind the conference and the blog series was to "bring together three vibrant fields—history of books and media, science and technology … Continue reading Learning by the Book: Manuals and Handbooks in the History of Knowledge (May–June 2018)

Reading and (Re-)​Classifying Canonical Instructions of the Past: Commentaries on ‘The Nine Chapters on Mathematical Procedures’ from the 3rd to the 13th Centuries

The earliest extant Chinese mathematical writings include two types of components of particular interest for our discussion on manuals and handbooks. On the one hand, there are mathematical problems that often evoke tasks carried out by officials working in the imperial bureaucracy. On the other hand, there are mathematical “procedures,” or “algorithms” in today’s parlance, … Continue reading Reading and (Re-)​Classifying Canonical Instructions of the Past: Commentaries on ‘The Nine Chapters on Mathematical Procedures’ from the 3rd to the 13th Centuries

Spinning the Risk: ‘The Effects of Nuclear Weapons’ Handbook

The Effects of Nuclear Weapons was by far the most popular handbook of nuclear defense during the Cold War. Adapted from an original publication of the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory (1950),[1] the handbook was amended and made commercially available for popular use (1957),[2] revised (1962),[3] reprinted (1964),[4] expanded (1977),[5] and even illicitly translated into Russian … Continue reading Spinning the Risk: ‘The Effects of Nuclear Weapons’ Handbook

The Manual as Artifact: On Artists’ Manuals and Craftsmen’s Handbooks

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

The Duty to Know: Nineteenth-Century Jewish Catechisms and Manuals and the Making of Jewish Religious Knowledge

In 1878 Moritz Daniel Oppenheim (1800–1882), probably the most famous nineteenth-century German-Jewish painter, created a work entitled The Heder, or Jewish Elementary School, which re-imagined his first school in Hanau near Frankfurt am Main in the early 1800s. In his memoirs, written only a few years later, he described this school as a longish chamber … Continue reading The Duty to Know: Nineteenth-Century Jewish Catechisms and Manuals and the Making of Jewish Religious Knowledge

‘Handbuch der Architektur’ (1880–1943): A German Design Manual for the Building Profession

The first volume of the massive reference book series Handbuch der Architektur  (Handbook of Architecture) was published in 1880.[1] At this time, the population of European cities was growing at a hitherto unprecedented scale, industrialization outside of England was reaching its peak, and traffic infrastructure was taking on global dimensions. The building boom of the … Continue reading ‘Handbuch der Architektur’ (1880–1943): A German Design Manual for the Building Profession

Medical Knowledge and the Manual Production of Casebook-Based Handbooks

In the 1850s, a physician at St. Bartholomew Hospital in London struggling with an unclear case of fever with affection of the bowels might have wanted to find information about the patient’s prognosis or an alternative medical treatment. Likewise, a medical student preparing a case for presentation to the hospital society, might have wanted further … Continue reading Medical Knowledge and the Manual Production of Casebook-Based Handbooks

Learning How to Construct the Unknown: The Practice of Risk in Early North American Insurance Manuals

Selling insurance against possibly harmful future events became popular among Americans in the late eighteenth century. Among the reasons that more and more people in the former British colonies were drawn to conduct this kind of business was that acting as an insurer required neither formal training nor special equipment. Basically, anyone who was literate … Continue reading Learning How to Construct the Unknown: The Practice of Risk in Early North American Insurance Manuals