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

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

Popular and Specialist Artisanal Knowledge in China, Mid-Thirteenth to Early Twentieth Centuries

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

The Book Will Kill the Edifice? Mechanics Manuals and Learning to Draw in the Early and Mid-Nineteenth Century

In Notre-Dame de Paris, Victor Hugo (1802–1885) wrote, “the book will kill the edifice.” Spoken by Archdeacon Claude Frollo, this phrase signified the view that the Renaissance was “that setting sun we mistake for a dawn.”[1] Understood as a revolution in tectonics away from the organic and toward the classical, the Renaissance had separated sculpture, … Continue reading The Book Will Kill the Edifice? Mechanics Manuals and Learning to Draw in the Early and Mid-Nineteenth Century

‘A Few Plain Instructions for Collecting’: Nineteenth-Century Botanical Collection Manuals in the Service of Empire

Writing in 1849 from their Admiralty chambers right off of Whitehall, the Lords Commissioners of the Royal Navy issued a simple memorandum to introduce their new Manual of Scientific Enquiry, a mutable collecting reference reworked and reissued six more times over the course of the century. “Their Lordships do not consider it necessary that this … Continue reading ‘A Few Plain Instructions for Collecting’: Nineteenth-Century Botanical Collection Manuals in the Service of Empire

The Theorist’s Doctrine and the Collector’s Technique: On The Historicity of Expertise in Microbiology

How does an expert transmit expertise? What genres of scientific writing are available for doing so? Does the choice of genre matter in the long run? In this essay, I approach these questions by comparing two monographs published in the mid 1940s in the field of microbiology. While the works shared a concern with life … Continue reading The Theorist’s Doctrine and the Collector’s Technique: On The Historicity of Expertise in Microbiology

‘A Lady’ in the Museum

Historical museum guidebooks mediate an associative network of ideas, writings, artefacts, and people. Piecing together these contingent and ephemeral encounters, and parsing original work from posthumous orders and emendation, is a difficult task that poses a number of questions. What determines how visitors move through museum spaces? Whose voices lead and regulate? Who watches? Blog … Continue reading ‘A Lady’ in the Museum

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

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

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