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

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

‘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

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

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

Recipes for Recombining DNA. A History of ‘Molecular Cloning: A Laboratory Manual’

Since Warren Weaver coined the term “molecular biology” in the late 1930s, technological innovation has driven the life sciences, from the analytical ultracentrifuge to high-throughput DNA sequencing. Within this long history, the invention of recombinant DNA techniques in the early 1970s proved to be especially pivotal. The ability to manipulate DNA consolidated the high-profile focus … Continue reading Recipes for Recombining DNA. A History of ‘Molecular Cloning: A Laboratory Manual’