In one month, an international group of almost 40 scholars will convene at Princeton for four days to discuss manuals and handbooks. We—Angela Creager, Elaine Leong, Kerstin von der Krone, and Mathias Grote, aka the organizers—are absolutely thrilled about what will be a great event to explore a novel field of study, straddling continents and ages, bringing together our field, the history of science/knowledge, with the history of the book and media. In posts added to this blog in the coming weeks, we aim to get the ball rolling among our participants and visitors, but we’d also like to start a conversation with everybody interested in this subject—not least since we received more than 150 applications to our conference and were not able to accommodate many promising proposals. So consider this a little virtual conference before the conference.
Manuals and handbooks are widely disseminated tools in the production and circulation of knowledge, used not only in education, science, and technology, but also in broader social and cultural contexts, such as the arts, religion, business, and politics. Undertaking to present a concise body of knowledge on a specific subject, they serve as reference and instructional works about particular subjects and related practices and procedures. Originally in the form of compact books or brochures, they were easy to carry around, ready to use when needed. The claim to present the most comprehensive knowledge on a particular topic also produced less handy versions of handbooks, however, even multivolume reference works. In recent years, many handbooks have morphed into electronic tools accessible on our mobile devices, available almost everywhere.