Working with the technologies of pen and paper, scissors and glue, naturalists in early modern England, Scotland, and Wales wrote, revised, and recombined their words, sometimes over a period of many years, before fixing them in printed form. They built up their stocks of papers by sharing these materials through postal and less formal carrier services. They exchanged letters, loose notes, drawings and plans, commonplace books, as well as lengthy treatises, ever-expanding repositories for new knowledge about nature and history as it accumulated through reading, observation, correspondence, and conversation. These textual collections grew alongside cabinets of natural specimens, antiquarian objects, and other curiosities – insects pinned in boxes, leaves and flowers pressed in books, rocks and fossils, ancient coins and amulets, and drafts of stone monuments and inscriptions. The goal of all this collecting and sharing, Elizabeth Yale claims, was to create channels through which naturalists and antiquaries could pool their fragmented knowledge of the hyperlocal and curious into an understanding and representation of Britain as a unified historical and geographical space.
Sociable Knowledge pays careful attention to the concrete and the particular: the manuscript almost lost off the back of the mail carrier's cart, the proper ways to package live plants for transport, the kin relationships through which research questionnaires were distributed. Sociable Knowledge shows how naturalists used print instruments to garner financing and content from correspondents and how they relied upon research travel – going out into the field – to make and refresh social connections. By moving beyond an easy distinction between print and scribal cultures, Yale reconstructs not just the collaborations of seventeenth-century practitioners who were dispersed across city and country, but also the ways in which the totality of their exchange practices structured early modern scientific knowledge.
"Sociable Knowledge is the first work I know of that discusses every means of early modern scientific communication – letters, conversation, printed books – their perceived advantages and limitations, and their complementary and supplementary roles. It is a book of exemplary scholarship and erudition."
– Sachiko Kusukawa, University of Cambridge
Note on Sources
List of Abbreviations
Introduction. "A Whole and Perfect Bodie and Book": Constructing the Human and Natural History of Britain
Chapter 1. "This Book Doth Not Shew You a Telescope, but a Mirror": The Topographical Britain in Print
Chapter 2. Putting Texts, Things, and People in Motion: Learned Correspondence in Action
Chapter 3. Natural History "Hardly Can Bee Done by Letters": Conversation, Writing, and the Making of Natural Knowledge
Chapter 4. John Aubrey's Naturall Historie of Wiltshire: A Case Study in Scribal Collaboration
Chapter 5. Publics of Letters: Printing for (and Through) Correspondence
Chapter 6. "The Manuscripts Flew About like Butterflies": Self-Archiving and the Pressures of History
Conclusion. Paper Britannias
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Elizabeth Yale teaches history at the University of Iowa Center for the Book.