Learning by the Book: Manuals and Handbooks in the History of Knowledge (May–June 2018)

Often overlooked, handbooks, protocols, and manuals are key in the making, preserving, and sharing of knowledge. Before meeting in Princeton, NJ, for a four-day conference, participants published short pieces on this blog. The idea behind the conference and the blog series was to "bring together three vibrant fields—history of books and media, science and technology … Continue reading Learning by the Book: Manuals and Handbooks in the History of Knowledge (May–June 2018)

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

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

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

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

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’