Case Studies in Book History: Early Modern Scientific Books

AHA Session 149
Society for the History of Authorship, Reading, and Publishing 1
Saturday, January 8, 2022: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
Galerie 5 (New Orleans Marriott, 2nd Floor)
Paula Findlen, Stanford University
The Audience

Session Abstract

This session, sponsored by the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading, and Publishing, offers three case studies of early modern scientific books that circulated in Europe and the early Atlantic World. This panel emphasizes the importance of the physical book to historical study by examining books’ generative processes and the rich afterlives of individual texts. Book history and material texts methodologies in this vein can reveal complicated stories and hidden actors, and in the case of early modern scientific books, the presenters on this panel collectively demonstrate how books themselves become sites of scientific engagement, vehicles for larger political or national movements, and mediators of knowledge. Megan Piorko examines seventeenth-century European alchemical works as material objects, examining the ways readers physically interacted with books to craft new purposes and functions distinct from what came from the press. Attentive to alterations and annotations made to specific alchemical texts, Piorko traces how readers and annotators transformed circulating alchemical knowledge. Scientific knowledge was not just constructed through textuality, but through printed images and other visual aids. Katherine Reinhart characterizes scientific images as a negotiation between scientific authors and illustrators; in her presentation she will focus on the publications of the Académie royale des sciences in Paris to flesh out this concept, all the while interrogating the broader role images played in disseminating scientific knowledge. Finally, Hannah Anderson examines English herbals and the work they do to facilitate colonization and empire-building. She shows that in the seventeenth century, the work of English “herbarists” on one hand made plants and plant-related knowledge gained from imperial expansion accessible to broader public. At the same time, the proliferation of these herbals made it easier for English citizens to imagine assimilating not only plants, but people. The three presentations considered together will demonstrate strategies for centering book-objects and book historical methods in narratives of early modern science while illuminating comparative contexts for early modern scientific books.
See more of: AHA Sessions