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

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

Mental Disorders, Collective Observation, and the International Classification of Diseases

Over four decades ago, the distinguished epidemiological psychiatrist Norman Sartorius wrote, “the history of psychiatric classification is in fact a history of psychiatry.”[1] During the 1960s and 1970s, Sartorius had been at the center of research by the World Health Organization (WHO) on the international classification and prevalence of mental disorders. During that era, the … Continue reading Mental Disorders, Collective Observation, and the International Classification of Diseases

Maurice H. Dobb’s ‘Wages’: A Journey Ahead of the Standardization of Labor Economics

The Making of a Cambridge Handbook

In 1928, the Cambridge academic Marxist Maurice Dobb published a short textbook on wages that underwent five revised editions by 1959, many reprints, and diverse translations, including into Japanese (1931), Arabic (1957), Italian (1974), and Spanish (1986). As historians of economics, our naive idea was that it would be possible... Continue reading

Who Has Been to Ames, Iowa? Or: Handbooks as an Unappreciated Dimension of Science

When I told my colleagues in Germany and the United States where I was heading for archival research two years ago, people looked at me completely baffled, or even in compassion. Some also laughed. Historians of science, they seemed to imply, travel to Ivy League universities for archival research, to Oxbridge, Paris, or Berlin. What … Continue reading Who Has Been to Ames, Iowa? Or: Handbooks as an Unappreciated Dimension of Science

How to Sublime Mercury: Reading Like a Philosopher in Medieval Europe

When it comes to “how-to” books, alchemy poses particular problems. Medieval alchemical treatises claimed to offer detailed advice on a host of spectacular products and processes, ranging from the Philosophers’ Stone, a transmuting agent capable of turning base metals into gold and silver, to medicinal elixirs that offered cures for otherwise intractable diseases, as well … Continue reading How to Sublime Mercury: Reading Like a Philosopher in Medieval Europe

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

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

Taking Human Genetics Digital: ‘Mendelian Inheritance in Man’ and the Genealogy of Electronic Publishing in Biomedicine

As of my writing on April 12, 2018, there are 24,506 known or suspected human genes out of roughly 3 billion base pairs in the reference sequence of the human genome.[1] While the bulk of these were identified during the course of the Human Genome Project (HGP), which ran from 1990–2003, a majority of the … Continue reading Taking Human Genetics Digital: ‘Mendelian Inheritance in Man’ and the Genealogy of Electronic Publishing in Biomedicine