Organized Session

Making and Knowing: Working with How-To Texts in the History of Science and Technology

Organizer

Tillmann Taape

Huntington Library

Chair

Pamela Smith

Columbia University

Metadata

Session Abstract

This panel presents different approaches and use cases of the Making and Knowing Project's recent milestone publication, Secrets of Craft and Nature in Renaissance France. A Digital Critical Edition and English Translation of BnF Ms. Fr. 640. This resource makes use of the digital medium to provide access to a fascinating anonymous manuscript collection of craft techniques compiled in the south of France around 1580. In addition to fully searchable transcriptions (diplomatic and normalised) and a translation of the French source text, all including editorial annotation and semantic markup, it makes accessible our datasets for download and further uses such as text mining. It also includes hundreds of research essays by scholars and students concerning the historical context and hands-on reconstruction of the manuscript's entries in the Making and Knowing Lab. The three papers in this panel explore the affordances of this digital presentation of a challenging historical source from different perspectives. How does it contribute to narratives in the history of science focusing on the experiential knowledge of artisans? What new readings of technical literature can be obtained through data visualisation and "distant reading"? What are the challenges and benefits of incorporating hands-on making activities based on the Edition into an undergraduate History of Science course? The questions raised in the papers and the panel discussion will help shape the forthcoming "Research and Teaching Companion" to Secrets of Craft and Nature which is intended as an adaptable template to implement similar endeavors in research, pedagogy, and the Digital Humanities.

Presenter 1

From Erfarung to Expérience: Vernacular Traditions of Experiential Knowledge in French and German Technical Literature

Tillmann Taape

Huntington Library

Abstract

Experience is a pivotal issue in early modern histories of knowledge. While it was the bread and butter of early modern artists and artisans, its reception among learned writers of the early Renaissance was often unfavourable-an attitude that famously changed over the course of the sixteenth century, with the increasing emphasis of direct observation and experience especially in medicine and botany. While scholars have traced this changing discourse in Latin genres of the learned, the vernacular undercurrents of the story remain largely unilluminated. This paper explores the language of experience in vernacular artisanal texts: the works of the surgeon-apothecary Hieronymus Brunschwig (c.1450-c.1530) and the anonymous French manuscript BnF Ms. Fr. 640 studied by the Making and Knowing Project. It shows how each writer conceives of experience as a source of natural knowledge, and showcases the possibilities of the Making and Knowing Project's Digital Critical Edition of Ms. Fr. 640 in undertaking such work.

Metadata

Presenter 2

Semi-distant Reading: A Data-rich Approach to Early Modern Technical Literature.

Clément Godbarge

Columbia University

Abstract

The abundant data made available by our digital edition enables us to complement the manuscript with a holistic view of the text. In this talk, I will discuss specific applications of this approach to data visualization, both in scholarly and teaching contexts. Through concrete examples, I will show how a not-so-distant approach to highly fragmented technical manuscripts such as the BnF Fr. Ms. 640 can help us to rapidly explore, test, and communicate new hypotheses regarding the text, its composition, contents, and linguistic patterns. This is made possible, I will argue, thanks to the wide availability of the data, which is easily downloadable in multiple formats and exploitable in a multitude of environments.

Metadata

Presenter 3

From Watching to Working: Incorporating "Making and Knowing" Activities into a History of Science Course

Monique O'Connell

Wake Forest University

Paul Jones

Wake Forest University

Abstract

This contribution examines the learning goals and outcomes of two iterations of the history course "Science, Magic, and Alchemy 1400-1700" (Sp 18 & Sp 20). This undergraduate course is a collaboration between a historian (O'Connell) and a chemist (Jones); there is a parallel course "History of Chemistry" offered in alternate semesters. The first version (2018) of "Science, Magic, and Alchemy" incorporated some chemical demonstrations to illustrate principles from course readings. The second version (2020) expanded the demonstrations, and the instructors also collaborated with the Making and Knowing project to incorporate some hands-on activities for students. This presentation will focus on how the addition of stucco-making from the Making andKnowing project and BnF Ms. Fr. 640 as a digital text changed the course in terms of class discussions, student learning outcomes, and pedagogical strategies and challenges. The course models a new potential pathway for interdisciplinary learning and new approaches to history of science courses, where historiographical claims about the importance of artisanal epistemology are mirrored in course design and student learning pathways.

Metadata

Commentator

Panel Discussion