Handbooks of the Mind into Ready Reckoners in Print: The Story of the ‘Encuvati’ in the Nineteenth Century

The Encuvati was the quintessential Tamil multiplication table book, used in precolonial South Indian schools. Nowadays they are available as palm leaf manuscripts, collected from different geographical locations of the Tamil-speaking region of South India and stored in various manuscript libraries there as well as in other collections inside and outside the country. But why … Continue reading Handbooks of the Mind into Ready Reckoners in Print: The Story of the ‘Encuvati’ in the Nineteenth Century

Selecting and Organizing Recipes in Late Antique and Early Byzantine Compendia of Medicine and Alchemy

Ancient recipes are usually short texts; one can easily find more than one recipe written on a single papyrus sheet or on the page of a Byzantine manuscript. Despite their brevity, however, they open an invaluable window onto a wide array of techniques and practices used to manipulate the natural world. Ancient recipes could pertain … Continue reading Selecting and Organizing Recipes in Late Antique and Early Byzantine Compendia of Medicine and Alchemy

Of Horses, Men, Books, and Things: Learning How to Ride in Early Modern Europe

Learning how to ride a horse has always been a tricky business. Xenophon pondered it in the fifth century BCE. So did the famous Renaissance riding master Federico Grisone. Even today, book shops have plenty of titles on learning how to ride (Figure 1). To put it a bit bluntly, riding a horse is about … Continue reading Of Horses, Men, Books, and Things: Learning How to Ride in Early Modern Europe

Hunters, Inquisitors, and Scholars: The Construction and Demarcation of Expertise in the Manuals of Frederick II and Bernard Gui

At first glance, the practical manual by Emperor Frederick II (1194–1250) and the one by the inquisitor Bernard Gui (1261–1331) do not seem to have any specific features in common. Whereas the first treatise, De arte venandi cum avibus (1240s), deals with the art of falconry,[1] the latter work, Practica officii inquisitionis (1323–24), aims to … Continue reading Hunters, Inquisitors, and Scholars: The Construction and Demarcation of Expertise in the Manuals of Frederick II and Bernard Gui

How to Conjure Spirits: The Logistics of the Necromancer’s Manual in Early Modern Switzerland

In 1727, fourteen men and women stood trial before the court of Basel for alleged treasure hunting. There was a rumor that some of them had attempted to find hidden treasures by performing nocturnal ceremonies to conjure spirits that could uncover and release the concealed money. Jacob Schaffner, a shoemaker, stated on record that he had obtained his knowledge of how to conjure spirits from a book he had bought ... Continue reading

Customizing How-To in Early Modern England

The early modern household was a bustling site for a range of medical activities from self-diagnosis and medication to nursing and caring for the sick to drug production. To further their knowledge about medicine and the body, householders accessed a wide variety of sources. Many turned to their family and friends for health-related advice, consulted … Continue reading Customizing How-To in Early Modern England

Rewriting the Book: Archaeology and Experimental Glass from the First British Colony in America

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.[1] 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

Vicissitudes in Soldering: Reading and Working with a Historical Gold- and Silversmithing Manual

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

Selling by the Book: Instructions and the Commercialization of DIY Practices in Twentieth-Century Germany

The Bible is the world’s bestselling book of all time. In Germany, it was followed by a recipe book: Dr. Oetker’s Backen macht Freude (Baking is Fun). Exact numbers are not available for either book, yet it seems to be certain that at least from the 1950s to the 1980s, no other publication was as widely … Continue reading Selling by the Book: Instructions and the Commercialization of DIY Practices in Twentieth-Century Germany

Punnett Squares and Hybrid Crosses: How Mendelians Learned Their Trade by the Book

In 1901, Erich von Tschermak (1871–1962) produced a critical edition of Gregor Mendel’s (1822–1884) paper on “Versuche über Pflanzen­hybriden”; and in the same year, William Bateson (1861–1926) submitted an English translation entitled “Experiments in Plant Hybridization” to the readers of the Journal of the Royal Horticultural Society.[1] Tschermak’s edition appeared as volume 121 of the … Continue reading Punnett Squares and Hybrid Crosses: How Mendelians Learned Their Trade by the Book