More than a Manual: Early-Modern Mathematical Instrument Books

In Elizabethan London, one of the more surprising things a wealthy owner of a beautifully illustrated folio volume could do was to take a sharp knife and cut it to pieces. John Blagrave’s 1585 Mathematical Jewel, in fact, demands nothing less.[1] This work, which introduced an elaborate instrument of Blagrave’s design for performing astronomical calculations, … Continue reading More than a Manual: Early-Modern Mathematical Instrument Books

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 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

Learning to Demonstrate the Spirit in English Practical Divinity

In 1646, the English polymath John Wilkins (1614–1672) published his popular guidebook for preaching, Ecclesiastes, but it was not the first “Discourse Concerning the Art of Preaching” with that name. Over a century earlier, in 1535, the renowned humanist Desiderius Erasmus (1466–1536) wrote a treatise with the same title in hopes of reforming a clergy … Continue reading Learning to Demonstrate the Spirit in English Practical Divinity

The Text as Fieldwork: The Book of Nature in Early Modern Japan

In early modern Japan, the study of nature, known at the time as honzōgaku, was primarily a bookish enterprise. The work of scholars who studied rocks and minerals, herbs and plants, flowers and trees, insects and fish, birds and animals—or, as they collectively called them, “myriads of things” (banbutsu) or “herbs-trees-birds-beasts-insects-fish-metals-jewels-grounds-stones” (sōmokukinjūchūgyokingyokudoseki)—began and ended with … Continue reading The Text as Fieldwork: The Book of Nature in Early Modern Japan

Formatting Modern Man on Paper: Ernst Neufert’s ‘Lehren’

When an architect in Germany designs a building, chances are that she will reach for “the Neufert” at some point—Ernst Neufert’s (1900–86) Bauentwurfslehre or Building Design Handbook.[1] Now in its 41st German edition, with 18 international editions, the book comprises an encyclopedic assortment of measures and floor plan elements that still serves as a reference … Continue reading Formatting Modern Man on Paper: Ernst Neufert’s ‘Lehren’

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

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