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 for use in the Soviet Union (1960).[6] Edited by Samuel Glasstone, a prolific author of science textbooks, The Effects of Nuclear Weapons was described as a “comprehensive summary of current knowledge on the effects of nuclear weapons” and commended by the Federal Civil Defense Administration as “the definitive source of information on the effects of nuclear weapons.”[7] 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 pulp. He then cooked them following a recipe for making a “very beautiful and very oriental” colorant for writing and limning. The recipe he followed has survived as part of an extensive manuscript collection dated to the first half of the seventeenth century. 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. 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 newly founded German Reich was in full swing too. Suddenly, workshops, post offices, hospitals, and more had to deal with ever increasing numbers of customers or patients and goods that demanded bigger, spatially and functionally more differentiated facilities. Novel types of buildings, such as railway stations, department stores, and disinfection plants, presented architects with the pressing question of how to design them appropriately to their purposes and so that building and using them would be cost efficient. 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 information about typhus fever, namely, its course, average prognosis, possible complications, and treatment. Both doctor and student would probably visit the library of the hospital’s “Medical College” to find comparable cases and case reports in voluminous bound casebooks. 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 and had access to pen and paper could write up a contract that promised some sort of financial compensation for losses or damages to someone, if that person feared a certain event could disrupt his or her comfort and in exchange made a regular payment. Thus, a man named Ephraim Tucker decided in 1793 to issue insurance for “the elegant full-blooded horse Clericus” during its transfer between stables.[1] Philadelphia merchants routinely agreed to insure each other against the so-called dangers of the sea. Churches in New England raised funds to insure the lives of their clergy and the clergymen’s widows and children. Neighbors issued contracts to insure each other’s homes against destruction by fire. Firemen, too, clubbed together to provide financial means for any event that caused one of them to suffer physical harm. The practice of taking on other people’s risks, this shows, was often performed by nonexperts. Continue reading “Learning How to Construct the Unknown: The Practice of Risk in Early North American Insurance Manuals”

The Handbook as Genre: Conflicting Concepts in 1950s Physics Publishing

Why should researchers publish printed books in an age when everything is expected to be available online and when print is widely deemed outdated? Similarly, from 1955 to 1988, physicists who published articles in the 78-volume Handbuch der Physik—Encyclopedia of Physics had to explain to their colleagues why they were participating in a project that many thought too slow, too heavy, too expensive, too definitive, yet not dependable or up-to-date enough. Some authors were assailed by doubts themselves since publication dates were pushed back by the publisher time and time again. (Surely, the editor would have declined his own role in the project, had he known that the series would take some 33 years to complete.) Looking at the early period of the making of this handbook reveals some interesting aspects of the characteristics of science publishing in the mid-twentieth century, right when the struggling German publishing industry was seeking ways to gain traction,[1] and just before journal publishing as a stand-alone publishing model picked up pace.[2] Continue reading “The Handbook as Genre: Conflicting Concepts in 1950s Physics Publishing”