UTSIC Website Active!

I’m pleased to announce that the University of Toronto Scientific Instruments Collection Website is now active! The first post is an essay, “A Short History of the University of Toronto Scientific Instruments Collection, written by Erich Weidenhammer (IHPST, University of Toronto) & Michael Da Silva (University of Toronto Faculty of Law). The post is a reprint of the original article, published in the “Opinions” section of Spontaneous Generations vol 4, no.1 (2010) 255-261.

UTSIC has lots planned for contextualizing the various instruments in the collection and breathing life into their stories (of the historical past). Posts on the homepage will provide a narrative overlay about the UTSIC collection, the instruments, as well as the institutional history of science and technology at the University of Toronto.


For the Maker of the Stars: The Cultural Reception of Print

Accept then, most clement Prince, this gentle glory reserved by the stars for you. May you long enjoy those blessing which are sent to you not so much from the stars as from God, their Maker and their Governor.

Your Highness’s most devoted servant, Galileo Galilei. Padua, Mach 12, 1610

-Galileo’s Sidereus Nuncius (Venice, 1610); Dedication letter to Cosimo II de’Medici

Prosper Marchand’s frontpiece on Histoire de l’origine et des primiers progrès de l’imprimerie (1740) shows the spirit of Print descending from the heavens under the aegis of Minerva and Mercury, towards representations of the “true” originator of the printing press: Gutenberg, Fust, and (a blank) Schoeffer for Germany; Koster in the hands of Holland, Caxton for England, Manutius for Italy, and Estienne for France.[1] The painting captures both the problem of crediting the “true” inventor, and the argument for a culture of reception for the transmission of scientific knowledge. From the “age of incunabula” to the arrival of the printing press, print revolutionized, and “altered both the inception and dissemination of knowledge.”[2] For the historian, the relationship between print and knowledge contains a complex history of the social construction of a medium towards the transmission of knowledge (Thony C. also recently discussed the relationship between artistic representation and scientific illustration within developments made in print technologies).Print’s most relevant contribution to the transmission is through its apparent “standardization,”[3] a notion captured by Elizabeth Eisenstein’s term “fixity,” referring to the duplicative powers of print and its preservation;[4] by “fixity,” the validity of the text could be guaranteed, and scholars “were freed from spending their lives eradicating scribal mistakes.”[5] Yet “fixity” only goes a long way capturing the history of print, since it is not an inherent quality, but a transitive one,  comprehended only within the social construction it embodies,[6] among elements such as openness, patronage, credit and trust.

Authorship on ancient distinctions of techne and praxis, were openly written without strict requirements for secrecy,[7] until the fourth century’s subordinate classification of technical arts by Xenophon and Aristotle’s separation of techne and praxis. Yet these views were not widespread, especially with the Macedonian expansion, which brought new military technology, and corresponded to new authorship on military arts.[8] Ptolemy I Stoeris, even founded the Alexandrian Museum and Library dedicated to the Muses, the nine patrons of the arts[9], and included technical arts within the Library.[10] The culture of reception is evident in the differences between Greek and Roman authorship; though both Greeks and Romans emphasized openness in writing, for Rome, agriculture was the highly regarded topic for authorship,[11] whereas the Greeks emphasized technical crafts. Printing then, should be viewed within other aspects of “social, cultural, and economic context[s] in which it operated.”[12]

With the rise of status of the artes mechanicae, fifteenth-century writing on mechanical arts expanded, especially in Italy and Germany, and elevated due to a changing political culture in “which the legitimacy of rulership was increasingly supported by the construction arts.”[13] This brought about a new alliance of techne and praxis, and the production of the mechanical arts significantly influenced the culture of knowledge through highly illustrated and textual treatises, many dedicated to patrons.[14] During the “last scribal age,”[15] Latin manuscripts on machines and devices embodied a highly illustrative style, with little evidence of secrecy within them. Fifteenth-century German writings on gunpowder artillery and machines were also lavishly illustrated, with a wealth of technical information and emphasis on the transmission of the technical aspects of the treatises.[16] While Latin manuscripts were written for the reader with a technical background, German technical texts demonstrate a shift in readership, towards elite collectors and a culture of reception far from “low-born.”[17] It is interesting to note that the highly technical treatises were not highly guarded state secrets, especially the Latin manuscripts, especially since many of them contained extensive technical details that encouraged reproduction.

One argument could be that the culture of reception played a key role in the use and interpretation of those technical treatises; the reader, who picks up a copy and understands it, is often a reader with a technical background. As Adrian Johns argues, the texts do not arrive with build-in interpretations, and while it cannot compel readers to react in certain ways, “they must be interpreted in cultural spaces the character of which helps to decide what counts as a proper reading.”[18] The possibility of secrecy is inherent in manuscripts and oral traditions, a reflective of the social structure and the need for a secure transmission of ideas.[19]Another argument is that secrecy was somewhat prevalent, if only through the guarding of certain aspects of knowledge, to control the means of interpretation. The Pythagorean code of secrecy, for instance, tried to maintain a valuable source of knowledge within the restricted circle, to prevent a misuse of a type of knowledge that required rigorous discipline.[20] There was something about possessing a type of knowledge that was restricted to an elite group, to control the means of interpretation. Paracelsus, for example, wanted to restrict his readership to the “common people,”[21] while others, like Biringuccio, scorned pseudonymous authorship, and derided craft secrecy to prevent fraudulent use and suggestive expertise that did not exist.[22] Others still, added encryptions or cryptographs in their texts, though they were used more so for the author’s own interests than secrecy. Furthermore, manufacture crafts still maintained elements of secrecy, as the secrets of their craft was beneficial for economical implications; such is the case of the Venetian glassmakers, who highly guarded the secrets of the trade, and maintained to keep the trade restricted to the city.

A new shift towards interpretation arrived with the printing press and the commercialization of knowledge, as patronage authorship and court culture allowed for a new kind of authority over knowledge, especially scientific knowledge.[23] Tycho Brahe, famously known for personifying the role of print and rendering natural knowledge universal,[24] isolated his works in the print house at Uraniborg, and this isolation meant that he could produce whenever, for whomever, and on whatever he desired.[25] Yet, some of his texts, such as the Astronomiae Instauratae Mechanica (1598) were distributed as gifts to patrons at courts and universities, for a readership that “undertakes a distinctive system of practice and ideas.”[26] As Johns explains, “the giving and receiving of such gifts was an important part of court culture, enmeshed in conventions of status recognition, reciprocation and reward.”[27] This recognition is not prevalent only with the advent of the printing press. Keyser’s Bellifortis, for example, was written as a prince’s book, dedicated to the emperor Ruprecht.[28] Yet patronage did not guarantee proper reception of idea, or allowed scientific aims to be achieved. Such is the case of Galileo, who angled to enter the court of Cosimo II de’Medici, where court patronage only provided reasonable criteria to be adopted for authorship. As Johns explains, there was no “Galileo, scientist,” outside this cultural realm, manipulating the mechanics of nature,[29] but only a scientist depending the high esteem of the court and his ideas to be interpreted as he wished.  The last of Galileo’s work, his Dialogo, depended heavily on the smooth transitive skills of his ally Ciampoli, whose later fall from grace could not prevent a misrepresentation of the text. Pope Urban, already under fire from Spanish interests, did not read the Dialogo within the context Galileo desired, and “what might otherwise have been appreciated as witty dialogue sallies came to be read very differently.”[30] Demonstrated by the cases of Tycho Brahe and Galileo, there is no evidence for uniformity, or “fixity” within a culture of reception.

As one of the earliest nations for the commercialization and adoption of “intellectual property,” England faced many hostile conflicts about propriety and credit rights, especially within context of the legal debates between the Stationers’ Company and advocates of royal patents. Booksellers and printers were often perceived as manufacturers of credit,[31] but they could not always guarantee credibility of textual evidence. Galileo’s commercial printing of Sidereus Nuncius immediately released unauthorized copies (Frankfurt, 1610), including hastily reproduced images of his detailed drawings of the moon. English courtly life, in addition, did not portray the absolutism over knowledge as presented in Germany or Italy,[32] and “secure” transmission of knowledge was dependent on the Stationers’ Company, as well as those ordained by royal patents. With bookmaking established as a craft,”[ k]nowledge itself, inasmuch as it could be embodied, preserved and communicated in printing materials, depended on Stationer’s labours,”[33] and control of the trade intensified through the notion of propriety. The Register Book of Copies (the Stationers’ “Hall Book”) was one way of ensuring propriety disputes, but problems still rose through “blocking entrance” strategies, most notoriously by Peter Cole.[34] Yet conflicts still ensured, especially in cases over claims over inventions not registered, or registered but not yet produced, and especially in a highly tensioned atmosphere filled with charges of plagiarism, most prominent within the experimental philosophers of the Royal Society of London,[35] and their aggressive approaches to print.

How was one to “trust the print,” especially for its propagation of scientific knowledge? It is apparent this trust is largely dependent on its culture of reception, especially in solving problems of piracy, forgery, and “usurpation.” The validity of the text’s trustworthiness was probably not solved until the establishment of copyright laws in the eighteenth century, and though the meaning of ‘print culture,’ is no easy task for the historian, it at least encompasses a great source of cultural transmission of scientific and technical knowledge over hundreds of years through numerous national borders.

[1] Adrian Johns presents an interesting argument, by looking at the problem of finding the “true” inventor of the printing press. For Johns, this identification is an important topic in defending local, national and personal identities within the conflicts, and he even argues that the history of print, and the credibility of the text could not be fully established until the inventor was crystallized (The Nature of the Book (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998, 375).

[2] L. Pyenson and S. Sheets-Pyenson, Servants of Nature (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1999), 212.

[3] Eisenstein describes the arrival of “standardization” with the invention of the printing press, which was able to allow a steady production of “standard” editions, and demonstrate a “new capacity to locate textual errors with precision and to transmit information simultaneously to scattered readers of knowledge (The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), 51). However, Eisenstein points out medieval scribes were incapable of committing a “standardized error,” in which a compositor’s error would be widely spread by mass production. Such an example is the so-called “wicked Bible” of 1631, where the word “not” was dropped from the Seventh Commandment (Thou shalt not commit adultery).

[4] E. Eisenstein, The Printing Press as an Agent of Change (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980), 113.

[5] Johns, The Nature of the Book, 10

[6] Johns, The Nature of the Book, 19.

[7] P. Long, Openness, Secrecy, Authorship (Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 2001), 17.

[8] Long, Openness, Secrecy, Authorship, 24-25.

[9] Long, Openness, Secrecy, Authorship, 25.

[10] Long, Openness, Secrecy, Authorship, 25.

[11] Long, Openness, Secrecy, Authorship, 35-37.

[12] Long, Openness, Secrecy, Authorship, 175.

[13] Long, Openness, Secrecy, Authorship, 102.

[14] Long, Openness, Secrecy, Authorship, 103.

[15] Long, Openness, Secrecy, Authorship, 115.

[16] Long, Openness, Secrecy, Authorship, 117.

[17] It is also worthy to note that oftentimes credit was given to those other than “low-born,” not simply by virtue of their status, but also because of the marketability of creating a grand myth. The story of the credit of the Greensleeves composition to King Henry VIII comes to mind, a myth that stood through many years. Eisenstein also speaks of this propensity, as does Johns in his narrative of Dr. Faustus. E. Eisenstein, The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe, 30-31, and Johns, The Nature of the Book, 333.

[18] Johns, The Nature of the Book, 20.

[19] Long, for instance, mentions that secrecy was prevalent in crafts that contained magical implications, or those manufacture crafts that were beneficial for economic gains. However, she is careful to warns us that the “issue of craft secrecy in the ancient world is best approached with caution: lack of evidence does not mean that it did not exist. Yet the assumption that widespread craft secrecy prevailed is not justified” (Openness, Secrecy, Authorship, 74).

[20] Long, Openness, Secrecy, Authorship, 57.

[21] Long, Openness, Secrecy, Authorship, 165.

[22] Long, Openness, Secrecy, Authorship, 180.

[23] Febvre and Martin, for instance, argue that the introduction of printing was only a “road to our present society of mass consumption and standardization,” though the print’s revolutionary implications did not have a radical transformation on the culture of reception’s immediate acceptance of it (L. Febvre & H.J. Martin, The Coming of The Book (London: Verso, 1997), 260.

[24] Johns, The Nature of the Book, 10.

[25] Johns, The Nature of the Book, 14.

[26] Johns, The Nature of the Book, 14-15.

[27] Johns, The Nature of the Book, 15.

[28] Long, Openness, Secrecy, Authorship, 106.

[29] Johns, The Nature of the Book, 24.

[30] Johns, The Nature of the Book, 27.

[31] Johns, The Nature of the Book, 33. In addition, booksellers also were concerned with financial issues, particularly turning a profit. Not only did they seek out those that would gather the largest possible numbers of interests, but their store strategies also employed marketing approaches. See Johns` The Nature of the Book 108-126, and Febvre & Martin`s The Coming of the Book, 258-261, especially in relation to scientific treatises,

[32] Johns, The Nature of the Book, 48.

[33] Johns, The Nature of the Book, 68.

[34] Johns, The Nature of the Book, 218.

[35] Johns lists a few examples: William Harvey (accused by Walter Warner), Isaac Newton (by Robert Hooke), Robert Hooke (by John Flamsteed), Robert Boyle (by George Sinclair and John Aubrey), Edmond Halley (by Flamsteed and before the Royal Society, by Hooke), James Harrington (by anonymous antagonists), Thomas Hobbes (by John Wilkins), John Woodward (by John Arbuthnot), and John Wallis (by almost everyone [!]) (Johns, The Nature of the Book, 461). How could anyone be taken seriously if there were charges of plagiarism being thrown from every which direction?

Article Summary: Harold Cook, “Time’s Bodies: Crafting the Preparation and Preservation of Naturalia.”

Harold Cook, “Time’s Bodies: Crafting the Preparation and Preservation of Naturalia,” in Merchants and  Marvels: Commerce, Science, and Art in Early Modern Europe. Ed. Pamela H. Smith and Paula Findlen (New York: Routledge 2002).

Harold Cook’s (Brown University) article takes place in sixteenth and seventeenth Netherlands, and ties together the market economy and its capital investments, with an increase in naturalia. The financial world of society, dependent on economy and commerce, included methods of accumulation, preservation, and calculation of future value that was necessary for the merchant’s benefits. Investments, as well, not only reflected the stability of market economy and society, but also spilled over to intellectual culture, as an increase in wealth led to an increase in travel, voyages, and collection of “curiosities.”

As a steady trade in naturalia developed, so did notions of preservation of inventory, as collectors and merchants strived to preserve time to maintain the shape of their collected specimens. Drying only went so far, as collectors were only able to see the shapes and forms, and not so much the inner structures of their collections. A need for new methods of preservation was required, especially for those who were interested in investigating the inner structures of the (human) body, and those interested in the prolongation of life for forestalling time’s natural processes for further study. Since seventeenth century methods of preservation were viewed as miraculous, Cook describes the motivations and processes developed in the Netherlands for preserving a lifelike body. Louis de Bils, one of the first to figure the secret of “balsamising,” preserved dead human bodies to maintain their lifelike form, by looking at examples from mummified Egyptian bodies. While the Egyptians only preserved the external form of the body, de Bils developed methods of preservation that held the whole body in a lifelike manner, through a long and complicated process. Yet although he received initial support, de Bils eventually faced hostility from others, including Van Horne, who raised the fraudulent possibility of de Bils’ work. As de Bils’ method of preservation was valuable, he closely guarded his secret, eventually selling it to Van Gutsochoven. Nevertheless, de Bils died before his methods could be fully explained, and others had to either guess or experiment with the means themselves.

Jan Swammerdam, for one, experimented with different preservatives and injections, and Dr. Hubertus of Leiden experimented with oil of turpentine. These experiments and the work of de Bils spread through Europe, even reaching and exciting Robert Boyle and other members of the Royal Society of London. The key importance of methods of preservation was its ability to allow development of other techniques of anatomical investigations, even to inspect and study individual organs before they decayed. The need for preservation then, represented not only a cultural need to preserve trinkets and collections from voyages of discoveries, but to also preserve knowledge itself; for the sake of future generation, knowledge, through curiosities and investments, through bodies and organs, was captured and maintained in its form, a method that reflects the process of capturing time.

DIY Citizenship: Critical Making & Social Media Schedule

So pleased to announce that the DIY Citizenship conference–which is one of the conference I’m working for–has just posted the preliminary schedule.

The line-up looks fantastic and I’m looking forward to hearing many of the presentations. There is a conference registration fee, but you can attend the free event on Thursday November 11, “Supporting the DIY Citizen: social and legal challenges of participatory politics and culture,” by Henry Jenkins (USC Annenberg) and Corynne McSherry (Electronic Frontier Foundation, San Francisco).

Publication News: Spontaneous Generations Vol.4

Great news, Dear Reader! Spontaneous Generations: A Journal for the History and Philosophy of Science has just published its latest issue!

Check out the Table of Contents (all papers are available in pdf on the journal’s website)
Vol 4, No 1 (2010): Scientific Instruments: Knowledge, Practice, and Culture

Focused Discussion
Scientific Instruments: Knowledge, Practice, and Culture [Editor’s Introduction] (1-7)
Isaac Record

The Challenge of Authenticating Scientific Objects in Museum Collections: Exposing the Forgery of a Moroccan Astrolabe Allegedly Dated 1845 CE (8-20)
Ingrid Hehmeyer

People as Scientific Instruments (21-29)
Maarten Derksen

Equipment for an Experiment (30-38)
Rom Harré

An Instrument for What? Digital Computers, Simulation and Scientific Practice (39-44)
Wendy S. Parker

Great Pyramid Metrology and the Material Politics of Basalt (45-60)
Michael J. Barany

Let Freeness Ring: The Canadian Standard Freeness Tester as Hegemonic Engine (61-70)
James Hull

The Machine Speaks Falsely (71-84)
Allan Franklin

Reading Measuring Instruments (85-93)
Mario Bunge

Engineering Realities (94-110)
Davis Baird

Conceptual Sea Changes (111-115)
Paul Humphreys

Extended Thing Knowledge (116-128)
Mathieu Charbonneau

Otto in the Chinese Room (129-137)
Philip Murray McCullough

Humans not Instruments (138-147)
Harry Collins

Apparatus and Experimentation Revisited (148-154)
Trevor H. Levere

Material Culture and the Dobsonian Telescope (155-162)
Jessica Ellen Sewell,   Andrew Johnston

Taming the “Publication Machine”: Generating Unity, Engaging the Trading Zones (163-172)
François Thoreau,       Maria Neicu

Concepts as Tools in the Experimental Generation of Knowledge in Cognitive Neuropsychology (173-190)
Uljana Feest

Domesticating the Planets: Instruments and Practices in the Development of Planetary Geology (191-230)
Matthew Benjamin Shindell

“Old” Technology in New Hands: Instruments as Mediators of Interdisciplinary Learning in Microfluidics (231-254)
Dorothy Sutherland Olsen

Out the Door: A Short History of the University of Toronto Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments (255-261)
Erich Weidenhammer,     Michael Da Silva

Ian Hesketh. Of Apes and Ancestors: Evolution, Christianity, and the Oxford Debate (262-265)
Sebastian Assenza

Marc Lange. Laws and Lawmakers: Science, Metaphysics, and the Laws of Nature (266-269)
Christopher Belanger

William Sims Bainbridge. The Warcraft Civilization: Social Science in a Virtual World (270-272)
Bruce J. Petrie

Steven Shapin. The Scientific Life: A Moral History of a Late Modern Vocation (273-275)
Michael Cournoyea

Learning From Artifacts: A Review of the “Reading Artifacts: Summer Institute in the Material Culture of Science,” Presented by The Canada Science and Technology Museum and Situating Science Cluster (276-279)
Jaipreet Virdi

Aaron A. Cohen-Gadol and Dennis D. Spencer. The Legacy of Harvey Cushing: Profiles of Patient Care (280-282)
Delia Gavrus

Adrian Parr. Hijacking Sustainability (283-285)
R. Moore

Eileen Crist and H. Bruce Rinker, eds. Gaia in Turmoil: Climate Change, Biodepletion and Earth Ethics in an Age of Crisis (286-288)
Julia Agapitos

David Pantalony. Altered Sensations: Rudolph Koenig’s Acoustical Workshop in Nineteenth-Century Paris (289-291)
Sarah-Jane Patterson

Michael Strevens. Depth: An Account of Scientific Explanation (292-299)
Anthony Kulic