Sunday, October 25, 2020

Commonplace books, modes of reading, collecting, compiling

From a marvelous but very long article by Anthony Grafton

Omnium Rerum Vicissitudo.” Poverty, he explained, created Lowliness, and that, in turn, Peace. Thanks to Peace, Traffick (or trade) increased, and created Wealth. But Wealth instilled Pride, which led to War and then back to Poverty. - Pastorius, Bee-Hive, a commonplace book.

Grafton's piece, The Republic of Letters in the American Colonies: Francis Daniel Pastorius Makes a Notebook focuses on a polymath German who, drawn to the Quaker life, moved to Pennsylvania in the 17th century, bringing with him the habits and learning of Humanist Europe.. . . 

Pastorius was an eminently practical man. He founded Germantown, drew up its legal codes, compiled its register of properties, and served the settlement in several legal and political capacities.. . . 

The decades around 1700, after all, witnessed a renewed globalization of European intellectual life. Citizens of the Republic of Letters carried out religious and scientific missions around the world. Both they and their informants also held positions in embassies, trading posts, and factories. Letters flew among them, and so did data and material objects. Astronomical observations and medical simples, botanical images and geological specimens moved around the world, from colony to metropole and colony to colony. Their massed power smashed traditional ways of understanding both the natural and the human world.. . .

As one might expect, methods of compilation interested these men greatly. Vincentius Placcius (1642–1699), professor of rhetoric at Hamburg, published an extensive manual on making notes in 1689. This included the first publication of a design for a scrinium litteratum or note closet—a piece of study furniture equipped with hooks on which the reader could fix and arrange excerpts on thousands of slips of paper.. . . 

Scrinia litteratum

Final paragraph:

Historians of information and its regimes have tended to look for ruptures—points where one regime succeeds another. European historians have emphasized the tremendous changes that took place in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, as colonies and trading centers transmitted objects and observations both to Europe and to one another; as vernaculars replaced Latin even in traditional book markets such as the German; and as an empirical model of knowledge production gradually replaced a bookish one. These histories accurately describe the larger climatic systems that showered information on European and colonial readers in the decades around 1700. But there were microclimates as well—or, to use the terminology created by Peter Burke, multiple impure information regimes, in which older techniques served new ends, and refluxes of traditional material entered the global circulation system. Pastorius and his friends created one such regime—and used its tools, creatively and effectively, to build a local version of Enlightenment rooted not only in local empiricism and discovery, but also in cosmopolitan erudition and tradition. Information cultures unfold, and coil, and interfere with one another. 

Wednesday, October 07, 2020

The Iliad seen by Tischbein

Greek heroes from the Iliad by Tischbein, from left to right 
-Menelaus, Paris, Diomedes, Odysseus, Nestor, Achilles and Agamemnon.