Sociable Knowledge: Natural History and the Nation in Early Modern Britain (Material Texts)

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9780812247817: Sociable Knowledge: Natural History and the Nation in Early Modern Britain (Material Texts)
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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. The book 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.

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About the Author:

Elizabeth Yale teaches history at the University of Iowa Center for the Book.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Introduction
"A Whole and Perfect Bodie and Book": Constructing the Human and Natural History of Britain

In early modern Britain, the study of natural history and antiquities was founded on writing. Writing was naturalists' and antiquaries' primary means for creating, assembling, and sharing knowledge. Working with the technologies of pen and paper (and occasionally scissors and glue), naturalists wrote, revised, and recombined their words, sometimes for many years, before fixing them in "final" printed forms. They further built up their stocks of "papers"—and bodies of knowledge—by sharing this material through postal and carrier networks. Their papers, which included letters, loose notes, drawings and plans, commonplace books, and lengthy treatises, were ever-expanding repositories of knowledge about nature and history as it accumulated through reading, observation, correspondence, and conversation. These textual collections accreted alongside cabinets of naturalia, antiquarian objects, and other curiosities—for example, insects pinned in boxes, leaves and flowers pressed in books, rocks and fossils, dried bird skins, ancient coins, fragments of Roman mosaics and urns, and shards chipped from ancient stone monuments. The end result of all this writing and collecting was, to echo the Elizabethan antiquary William Lambarde, to "compact a whole and perfect bodie and Booke" of the natural and human history of Britain.

In their writing and collecting, especially their correspondence, naturalists and antiquaries collaboratively constructed their visions of a "topographical Britain," and through their printed works, they communicated these visions to a wider public. The seventeenth-century British press was flooded with topographical, chorographical, antiquarian, and natural historical works, many with "Britain" or "Britannia" in the title. These studies combined a fine-grained attention to the material descriptions of localities with a wide-angle vision of a national whole in which these localities were embedded. William Camden's Britannia, first published in Latin in 1586 and reprinted in English translation through the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (it was serialized in a British newspaper as late as 1733), was the genre's ur-text. Camden and those who followed him sought to frame a land-based vision of Britain that could serve as a foundation for political and cultural unity. They did so amid the intense political upheaval that marked British history in the century before England's formal political union with Scotland in 1707. From the mid-sixteenth century they found ready support for their project among Tudor and later Stuart royalty and nobility. Creating Britain as a topographical object was a way of forging it as a political object.

Natural history and antiquarian studies as produced by joining local studies together under a national vision offered an image of nation and nature as one. To paraphrase the naturalist Joshua Childrey, writing in Britannia Baconica (1660), topographical studies were mirrors that showed Britons themselves. Sixteenth- and seventeenth-century scholars thus promoted new ways of thinking about localities and local identities as enmeshed within the nation and national identities. In effect they recast the national as the local.

Yet although many naturalists, antiquaries, and topographers agreed that "Britain" was their proper object of study, no two works defined "Britain" in the same way. There was much disagreement about where to set the topographical boundaries of the nation. Some books included within the orbit of Britannia only England and Wales; others included England, Scotland, and Wales; some included Ireland; and still others excluded England. Within these books further divisions were drawn, and it was made clearer on what terms constituents of the topographical Britain might be included as members of the political and cultural Britain. In the English translation of his Britannia, for example, published during the reign of James I, Camden adopted a position of equal fellowship with the Scots and deference to their knowledge about their land, surely more detailed and correct than his own. At the same time he held up Ireland as fit only for English colonization and domination. As Camden's treatment of Ireland implies, the significance of the landscape was hotly contested along religious lines. Of course some authors were entirely unconcerned with putting the topographical pieces together into a British whole, each preferring to focus on his individual kingdom or some little corner of it. If an image of "Britain" emerged from topographical writing, it was a fractured and fragmented one, as riven by conflict as the British people themselves.

The Correspondence

Printed topographical writing, with its mix of natural and antiquarian particulars and national visions, required collaborations carried out over long distances. Although they could not agree on a single vision of Britain as a topographical and political object, naturalists and antiquaries increasingly joined together to construct and share their visions in a community distributed across the landscape and connected by correspondence. Correspondence was central to natural history and antiquarian studies, so much so that investigators often referred to the community in which they conducted their work as their "correspondence," sometimes with the definite or indefinite article. "The correspondence"—the sum of personal contacts between those engaged in scientific activity—was the foundation for the construction of natural historical and antiquarian knowledge. Through their correspondence, scholars scattered across Britain poured their stocks of local knowledge into a shared pot. The contacts that naturalists formed allowed them access to a perspective in which their own localities could be enmeshed with, and partially submerged in, an image of "Britain," however fractured or in dispute that image might be.

As intellectual fields, natural history and antiquarian studies were deeply and materially shaped by the possibilities (and constraints) of long-distance collaboration. Correspondence-based exchange encouraged scholars to think of their work as never fixed and never finished. Instability and incompleteness came to mark the production and consumption of natural knowledge in both print and manuscript. In their published works, naturalists and antiquaries sought to communicate to a broader audience the habits of thought and association that they had learned through working together in the medium of correspondence. Yet they were often speaking first and foremost to each other: when they entered into print, naturalists and antiquaries often did so through their correspondence, relying on their contacts to provide content and fund publication via subscription. Print also participated in the cycle of expanding and perpetuating their correspondence, with authors using the publication process as an opportunity to collect more correspondents. At the other end of the communications spectrum, naturalists and antiquaries increasingly sought to incorporate conversation into the written stream of knowledge. Whole systems of record keeping and paperwork, such as those of the early Royal Society, were established to impress permanence upon conversation and expand its reach through written channels. In integrating writing and conversation, these systems eased naturalists' anxieties about conversation as a source of credible knowledge. They also grafted the social and intellectual functions of face-to-face meetings, which were key for establishing the authority and credibility of natural knowledge, onto those of writing and correspondence, which allowed for individual investigators to be distributed across the landscape, a key requirement for topographical study.

The habits and forms of correspondence were even inscribed into the early modern archive. As they faced death, the Restoration-era generation of naturalists and antiquaries envisioned the papers they had amassed over the course of their lives as potential resources for those who continued their projects into the future. They established archives housing their papers and collections as means of fostering their preservation and continued use. These institutions instantiated a view of knowledge-making as an ongoing collaborative writing process.

Local Particulars, National Visions

Early modern naturalists and antiquaries united a boundless enthusiasm for local particularities—a hyperlocalism—with a desire to understand and represent Britain as a unified historical and geographical space, though they disagreed on the boundaries and configuration of that space. Topographical studies were often organized around counties or regions and were sometimes constructed narratively as journeys through the land. These studies set the scope of natural historical investigation by the political and cultural boundaries of counties, political administrative units hovering between local village society and the institutions of king, courts, and Parliament. Such studies included Robert Plot's Natural History of Oxford-shire (1677) and John Aubrey's Naturall Historie of Wiltshire. There were also county-based studies of antiquities, such as William Dugdale's Antiquities of Warwickshire (1656). These books were conceived of as components within an ideal "whole body and book" of British natural history and antiquities. Some books attempted to sum the components, aspiring to contain the entire field of counties in a single volume: these were the Britannias. Childrey's Britannia Baconica was one such, as was Aubrey's Monumenta Britannica, a survey of ancient British monuments. Over the decades the "whole body and book" grew, as many scholars working over decades read, copied (sometimes with and sometimes without citations), and added to each other's work.

County and regional studies collected local particulars in more or less depth, depending on the patience and knowledge of their authors. Studies focused on single counties were often the most detailed, offering information on winds and water courses, plant and animal species, farming practices, local industries and inventions, antiquities, and noteworthy residents, such as those who had lived to extraordinarily great ages. Scholars writing in this tradition modeled their work on a number of different antecedents; one source was classical works in descriptive and mathematical geography and natural history, including those by Ptolemy, Strabo, and Pliny the Elder. Pliny's Natural History, known through the Middle Ages but available in a relatively complete version again only in the early modern period (it was printed in an English translation by Philemon Holland, who was also responsible for the 1610 translation of Camden's Britannia), was an encyclopedic review of nature, arts, and inventions. Though it had a broader scope than many seventeenth-century county natural histories, it shared with them a particular focus on human uses of plants, animals, minerals, and other natural resources. County and regional studies were also modeled on late medieval and Renaissance exemplars, such as Flavio Biondo's Italia Illustrata (1482), a humanist topographical survey of Italy. As these examples make clear, early modern topographers working in these traditions did not share divisions that moderns make between the study of nature and that of culture. Rather, everything—human, animal, mineral, and plant—that was of, on, or involving the land was of interest to them, though some were more interested in some of these categories at the expense of others. Though some authors focused more on antiquities and others more on nature, they participated in a common scholarly community, as will be evident throughout this book.

Although this book focuses largely on county and regional studies, it also considers the adjacent, related genre of natural histories organized around natural kinds rather than political boundaries. In the latter third of the seventeenth century, John Ray, working from his own notes and those he inherited from his friend Francis Willughby, produced a series of studies cataloging plant and animal life. In these works nature was increasingly, though not totally, abstracted from the land; Willughby's and Ray's catalogs were not organized as travelogues, though Ray was also known for his books of travels. Nature too was shorn of the classical and humanist literary framework in which fifteenth- and sixteenth-century naturalists had embedded it. Rather than list all previous references to a particular animal in earlier literature, as had continental scholars such as Conrad Gesner, Ray preferred to provide descriptions (and when finances allowed, images) of species based on his observations of them. Whereas the overriding focus of county and regional natural histories was the human presence in and human use of the natural world, these descriptions were less obviously linked to human needs. Despite these differences, however, the two genres of natural history were deeply related. Ray, for one, still corresponded widely with naturalists engaged in both kinds of studies, and he participated in joint projects organized around geographical principles.

Both kinds of studies, those organized around political and cultural topography and those organized around natural categories, required intimate, detailed knowledge of human and natural landscapes and natural kinds, which was gained through travel and intercourse with others, whether in conversation, correspondence, or reading printed books. Scholars necessarily drew on each other's knowledge about particular places and particular subjects in order to build up British natural history and antiquities in both depth and breadth. Late seventeenth-century naturalists often credited Francis Bacon with inspiring and encouraging such collaboration. In his Great Instauration, Bacon called upon men to "join in consultation for the common good; and being now freed and guarded by the securities and helps which I offer from the errors and impediments of the way, to come forward themselves and take part in that which remains to be done." Restoring and expanding natural knowledge were massive tasks and would certainly take more than one generation, but investigators believed that if they worked together, these could be accomplished. Early in his career, for example, the botanist John Ray began to assemble a complete list of plants observed in counties across Britain, a project that resulted in his Catalogue of English Plants (1670), his Synopsis methodica stirpium Britannicarum (1690), and the county-by-county lists of plants in Edmund Gibson's 1695 revised edition of William Camden's Britannia. As a young man, Ray traveled widely to collect plants. But even in his younger days, before illness restricted his movements, he also worked collaboratively through his correspondence, engaging "friends and acquaintance[s] who are skilful in Herbary . . . to search diligently his country for plants, and to send me a catalogue of such as they find, together with the places where they grow." In the prefaces to the second edition of the Synopsis, Ray acknowle...

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Book Description University of Pennsylvania Press, United States, 2016. Hardback. Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. 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. The book 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. Seller Inventory # AAJ9780812247817

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