Books and the Sciences in History. .
Books and the Sciences in History proceeds along the general lines of Cultures of Natural History, also edited for Cambridge University Press -- in 1996 -- by a team including Nick Jardine. The one difference in presentation is that the endnotes follow the individual essays and are not grouped at the back of the book. Otherwise there is the same abundant illustration and a matching claim to have produced an "accessibly-written" (i) volume that provides a systematic overview of the now intersecting histories of the book and of science. There is some hyperbole in the assertion that "all aspects of the authorship, production, distribution, and reception of manuscripts, books and journals in the various sciences are examined (i), but the twenty chapters range widely over the field and draw on original and often ongoing research. While this is no textbook, it is held together by the editors' delimitation and description of a new field in their "Introduction: books and the sciences" and by the two contributions in a reflective vein contained in the "Afterwords": Nick Jardine's "Books, texts, and the making of knowledge" and Adrian Johns' "The past, present, and future of the scientific book." Readers, who are likely to be involved already in the study of these questions, are thereby invited to consider problems of scope and method in relation to two disciplines, one of them now much more attentive to its social context and the other still coming to terms with its recent fashionableness.
The essays directly relevant to the Renaissance are contained in the first section "Triumphs of the book." After Rosamond McKitterick's "Books and sciences before print," which offers a rapid but authoritative survey starting from the Carolingian period, come seven chapters dealing with the first two centuries of printing: Jerry Brotton, "Printing the world"; Anthony Grafton, "Geniture collections, origins and uses of a genre"; Ann Blair, "Annotating and indexing natural philosophy"; Sachiko Kusukawa, "Illustrating nature"; Adam Mosley, "Astronomical books and courtly communication"; Lauren Kassell, "Reading for the philosopher's stone"; Silvia de Renzi, "Writing and talking of exotic animals." Specialists will have no difficulty in relating the topics treated to the authors' known preoccupations.
Despite the general heading there is far more sober analysis than triumphalism on view. What is striking is the emphasis on the interaction between print and scribal cultures, not forgetting oral communication. As we have learned from several scholars over the last two decades, manuscript continued to bean important medium for the transmission of knowledge well into the seventeenth century and even beyond. Particular attention is given here to annotation, to the visible signs of individual readers' use of and reactions to printed books. References to work in progress and about to appear reinforce the sense that this aspect of the history of reading is far from exhausted. Not surprisingly, the Eisenstein thesis (mentioned more often than the index suggests) is received on the whole with reticence or skepticism.
Students of the Renaissance may also want to read later chapters in the sections "Learned and conversable reading" on the long eighteenth century and "Publication in the age of science" on the first half of the nineteenth. Footnotes, research libraries, the physiology of reading, and the Spedding edition of Bacon are among the topics that are difficult to confine in what are avowedly rather permeable chronological divisions.
Just as it is not easy to target the generalist/specialist audience for a collection of this kind, so too it can be a formidable task to bring to bear an appropriate blend of technical skills in the history of the book and of science. Perhaps inevitably there is a certain unevenness in the handling of matters that pertain to physical bibliography, which ought to underpin serious work in the newer field. Apart from anachronistic references to the "print run" (37, 75), there are occasional signs of hesitation in dealing with technical data. The fact that not all authors venture decisively outside the English-speaking domain helps to explain some gaps. Despite this the book remains a useful stimulus for debate and for further research.
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|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2003|
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