Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 64 (2017) 53e63
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State of the Field
State of the ﬁeld: Paper tools Boris Jardine University of Cambridge, Department of History and Philosophy of Science/Whipple Museum, Free School Lane, CB2 3RH, United Kingdom
a r t i c l e i n f o
a b s t r a c t
Article history: Available online 24 August 2017
Paper occupies a special place in histories of knowledge. It is the substrate of communication, the stuff of archives, the bearer of marks that make worlds. For the early-modern period in particular we now have a wealth of studies of ‘paper tools’, of the ways in which archives were assembled and put to use, of the making of lists and transcribing of observations, and so on. In other ﬁelds, too, attention has turned to the materiality of information. How far is it possible to draw a stable methodology out of the insights of literary and book historians, bibliographers, anthropologists, and those working in media studies? Do these diverse ﬁelds in fact refer to the same thing when they talk of paper, its qualities, affordances and limitations? In attempting to answer these questions, the present essay begins in the rich territory of early-modern natural philosophy e but from there opens out to take in recent works in a range of disciplines. Attending to the speciﬁc qualities of paper is only possible, I argue, if it is understood that paper can be both transparent and opaque depending on the social world it inhabits and helps to constitute. Paper ﬂickers into and out of view, and it is precisely this quality that constitutes its sociomateriality. Ó 2017 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Paper tools Sociomateriality Scientiﬁc instruments History of information
Suppose I say to Turing, ‘This is the Greek letter sigma’, pointing to the sign s. Then when I say, ‘Show me a Greek sigma in this book’, he cuts out the sign I showed him and puts it in this book.dActually these things don’t happen. Ludwig Wittgenstein, Lectures on the Foundations of Mathematics1
calculating instruments that had recently been invented and demonstrated by Samuel Morland, Leibniz and others. Earlier in the year, when Hooke had ﬁrst seen Morland’s mechanical calculator, he had written in his diary the terse comment that it was ‘Very Silly’.3 In the lecture he gave full ﬂight to his ire: As for ye Arithmeticall instrument which was produced here before this Society. It seemed to me so complicated with wheeles, pinions, cantrights [sic], springs, screws, stops & truckles, that I could not conceive it ever to be of any great use (Hooke, 1673)
1. Introduction I begin with two vignettes from the early years of the Royal Society. First, on May 7th, 1673, a typically garrulous Robert Hooke delivered a short lecture to the Society entitled ‘Concerning Arithmetick Instruments’.2 This was an attack on a group of
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See Wittgenstein (1976), p. 20. The Turing referred to is indeed the mathematician and computer pioneer Alan Turing, who was amongst the small group who attended these lectures in 1939. Throughout the lectures Wittgenstein engages with those present when giving examples, but he seems to have been particularly inspired by Turing, who could be counted upon to present a rigorously idealist account of mathematics e the exact position against which Wittgenstein was arguing (see Shanker, 1987). Appropriately enough (given the subject of the present essay and the local ﬂavour of the lectures themselves) the notes of Wittgenstein’s students had long circulated in mimeograph before they were collated and edited by Cora Diamond. 2 The text of this lecture is printed in Birch (1757, pp. 85e87). 1
http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.shpsa.2017.07.004 0039-3681/Ó 2017 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Why was the great philosopher of mechanism so unimpressed with this mathematical machine? The answer, elaborated in the Royal Society lecture, is as much about Hooke’s love of paper as his disdain for unnecessary and expensive instrumentation. ‘The best way for Addition and subtraction,’ he told his colleagues, ‘is by setting down ye numbers on paper and proceeding as in common arithmetic, both these operations being quicker and much more certainly done then by any instrument whatsoever’ (Hooke, 1673). The beneﬁts of paper are that
Robert Hooke, diary entry for 31 January 1672/3 (Robinson and Adams, 1935, p.
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ﬁrst ye numbers may be writ down in half ye time they can be set on any instrument, and 2dly they remaining altogether in view may be quickly added or subtracted and the sum or remainder set down, and if there should be any mistake in the ﬁrst they can be presently run over again (Hooke, 1673) While this may seem like so much common sense, it also ties Hooke into the long tradition of using everyday materials as aids for arithmetic, and reveals his long-standing obsession with the ways in which paper tools can augment the memory.4 In modern terms we could say that Hooke was speaking of the ‘affordances’ of paper.5 My second vignette dates from a decade later, circa 1683, when Edmund Halley set out to answer an old and seemingly intractable question: how to achieve an accurate measurement of a country’s area? Halley had been set the task by John Houghton, who was hoping to include the answer in his Collection of Letters for the Improvement of Husbandry & Trade. In 1680 a map had been produced that Halley deemed sufﬁciently accurate e so he simply cut it up and weighed it, using a circle of known area and of the same paper as a standard. The answer Halley got, for England and Wales, was 38.7 million acres, just a shade over the modern estimate.6 Halley is thought to have learned the technique of ‘cut-andweigh’ from William Petty, but in any case it was a reasonably well known trick. John Wybard, for instance, had given the following account in 1664: So likewise might the area of content of any ﬂat superﬁcies or Plane, being drawn upon any moveable and weighable matter or substance, (as Paper most commonly, and so parchment, paistboard, &c.) be discovered or produced accordingly (Wybard, 1664, p. 207). The strangeness of this proposition was such that Wybard had to remind his readers that paper is indeed a ‘materiate thing’, even though it be ‘such a superﬁcial substance’ that is apparently ‘not under the dimension of depth or thickness’. Paper ‘will shew weight’, insisted Wybard, who was thus emboldened to ‘dare propound this thing, as one of the most curious and nice operations or experiments to be performed’ (Wybard, 1664, p. 207e8). For Hooke, Halley and Wybard paper was a conspicuous tool of mathematical practice. What is striking in each case is not so much the kind of work done, rather the sudden apprehension of a material that had previously gone unnoticed, or at least unmentioned. And in each case the practical is shot through with social implications. For Hooke, in his argument against the courtier Morland, paper was the substrate of sound mathematical practice. In this he was echoing recent debates over the (dis)merits of mathematical instruments, which could lead practitioners to be ‘only doers of tricks, and as it were Juglers’ (Hill, 1998). Conversely, for Wybard and Halley, the cut-and-weigh technique was a surprising means to a consequential end: the assessment (by Wybard) of the capacities of barrels, buildings and materials, and (by Halley) the extent of the taxable realm. Throughout the seventeenth century paper shifted into view and back out again, each new perspective prompted by societal
4 On the tools used for arithmetic e for example, ‘a ﬂat polished surface or tablets, strewn with sand, on which ﬁgures were inscribed with a stylus’ e see Steele (1922, pp. viiexviii). 5 The term ‘affordances’ was ﬁrst used in this context by James Gibson (1979). As I discuss below, it has been used more recently by Tim Ingold (2007). 6 See Houghton (1727), vol. 1, pp. 67e70.
concern. Paper was already transparent e simply the bearer of marks and signs. It was already opaque e a substance to be weighed, looked at under the microscope, traded and discarded. I characterise this condition as ﬂickering materiality, and in what follows I argue that it is in fact the central condition of ‘paper tools’ as a bearers of meaning and of paper as a manipulable substance. In surveying the ‘state of the ﬁeld’, I begin with the rich territory of early-modern natural philosophy e but from there I will roam freely, one of my main aims being to take in works that share an interest in paper across time periods and in many disciplines, from Hooke and Halley to Victorian London and twentieth-century Islamabad. 2. Dynamic archives For early-modern natural inquiry we now have a wealth of information on the precise role of paper in the formation and circulation of natural knowledge. A recent synthetic account is Richard Yeo’s Notebooks, English Virtuosi, and Early Modern Science, which culminates in a ﬁne description of Hooke’s prosthetic archival practice: note-taking as a necessary complement to the more glamorous enhancement of the senses by optical and philosophical instruments (Yeo, 2014, p. 239ff.). The mnemonically paranoid Hooke at one point even calculated the number of facts that a person acquired each day e settling on a number large enough to necessitate what Yeo calls a ‘dynamic archive’ of moveable slips of colour-coded paper on which new knowledge could be recorded, ordered, sorted and stored. This personal practice was also a model for collective enterprise: gathering up and sorting inscriptions at once permitted more material to be collected than could be stored in one person’s head; and the rearrangement of that material was itself a process of analysis, even discovery. In this way, note-taking and the sorting of papers was nothing less than the project of navigating between blind empiricism and premature theorizing e the enterprise of the Royal Society itself. While the empirical project of the early Royal Society might seem like familiar ground, in Yeo’s hands it becomes strange again e a place not just of observations, discoveries and inventions, but of scraps of paper, Borgesian lists and indexical machines. In a sense, of course, the latter ﬂow naturally from the former, the solution from the problem. As Ann Blair found for the earlier humanists, the virtuosi simply felt they had ‘too much to know’ (Blair, 2010) and turned their thoughts and pens to the task of not only shoring up the ruins of their own minds, but also setting in motion a collaborative note-taking exercise that would become the fabric of Solomon’s House e a house of index cards (Krajewski, 2011). It is this mix of quotidian reﬂection, grand ambition and personal proclivity that begins to add depth to Hooke’s thoughts on the use of paper in mathematics. Later in the lecture on arithemetic instruments quoted above Hooke had argued that the best instrument for squaring & cubing or for extracting the square or Cubick root is by printed tables for that purpose, such as [.] Dr. Pell hath lately epitomised and reduced to a lesser volume (Hooke, 1673). Here Hooke goes far beyond his ﬁrst statement about the use of pen and paper for calculating. And he equivocates over the nature of an ‘instrument’: if you must have one, then it ought to be made of paper. John Pell, whose mathematical tables Hooke mentions, plays an important role in Yeo’s narrative (Yeo, 2014, p. 125ff). Pell was perhaps the most ambitious and least productive of all the virtuosi. His 1638 Idea of Mathematicks (reprinted by
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Hooke in 1682) divided the mathematical enterprise into three parts e a compendium, a pocket-book, and a self-instruction manual e such that any student might solve problems ‘exactly as if he had a complete Library by him’. Once mastered, however, the Idea would be just that: skilled mathematicians would work ‘up in their heads, as to need no booke at all’ (quoted in Yeo, 2014, p. 126). This notion, of a paperless world of memorized science, lies at one end of the scale set up by the various paper projectors. At the other end was the ‘collective note-taking’ practice advocated by Francis Bacon, Samuel Hartlib, and others. For Pell, the discipline of memory was key to mathematical practice e for Hartlib memory could be externalized and manipulated on paper. This is in part about the difference between mathematics and natural history. But it is also about the way that paper can function collectively: as a tool for ordering the minds of young scholars; as an enterprise of collaborating and recording, collecting and sorting (Yeo, 2014, p. 219ff.). One striking feature of Yeo’s book is how neatly it ﬁts into the growing literature on scholarly practices and early modern natural inquiry. Here, clearly, is a sequel to Ann Blair’s Too Much to Know (2010); a complement to Vera Keller’s Knowledge and the Public Interest, 1575e1725 (2015) and Elizabeth Yale’s Sociable Knowledge (2016). All of these works address the question of how the systematic acquisition of knowledge was to be managed, though with differing emphases. Blair uses the modern concept of ‘information overload’ as a way into the early-modern practices of humanist scholars. Keller looks at how the ‘literary technology’ of the ‘wish list’ was used to deﬁne the ‘interestedness’ of the new knowledge e in terms of both truthfulness and the politics of public enterprise. These bookish histories combine with the ‘archival turn’ in Yale’s work, which is perhaps the most ‘papery’ of all in its attention to the non-reading uses of manuscripts, the vagaries of preservation and the details of circulating texts.7 Through ‘paperwork’ the early Royal Society has also been connected to global networks of trade and empire, in particular in Miles Ogborn’s Indian Ink (2007).8 3. The material text What are the origins of this current concern with the techniques of scholarship, and the materiality of paper?9 There are at least two scholarly traditions in play here. First, there is the history of the book e with its attentiveness to format, pricing, production, binding and distribution and reception of knowledge as a materially mediated phenomenon.10 In this sense all the authors mentioned above are indebted to Adrian Johns, whose masterly The Nature of the Book (1998) opened up a huge area of inquiry, dealing as it did with the messy realities of print and manuscript, novelty and tradition. One way to put it is that we have moved from the formulation of ideas to their production, then to their reception,
7 See also Yale (2015) for an excellent overview of developments in the history of archives. 8 For ‘paperwork’ see Kafka (2009, 2012). 9 On the techniques of scholarship in the sciences see, for example, the essays in the special issue of Science in Context entitled ‘Knowledge in the making: Drawing and writing as research techniques’ (Hoffmann & Wittmann, 2013). One obvious and perhaps unsettling explanation for our current interest in the material history of scholarship is that we are ourselves suddenly aware of the importance of ‘paperwork’, just as we cast off into the unknown seas of digitality. As I see it this is far from a trivial aside e but it is not my intention to go into the matter here. 10 I will not attempt to give a survey of citations in this vast ﬁeld, but will point instead to the very useful overview offered in the recent Cambridge Companion to the History of the Book, edited by Leslie Howsam (2015). For book history and the sciences see Frasca-Spada and Jardine (2000).
and on to the far more practice-oriented consideration of sorting, ﬁling, writing, circulating, annotating and discarding.11 The ‘material text’ has become, and is likely to remain, the term of art for this domain of scholarship (Brayman, Lander, & Lesser, 2016) Looked at from another angle, however, book history itself splits into the Sherlockian work of analytical bibliography and the more theoretically inclined reader-oriented literary history. An important attempt to reconcile these two is D.F. McKenzie’s Bibliography and the Sociology of Texts (2004). The guiding principle here is a radical historicism: ‘each reading,’ as McKenzie puts it with understated ﬁnality, ‘is peculiar to its occasion’ (McKenzie, 2004, p. 19). This successfully moves beyond the meaning-blind strictures of bibliography into a consideration of the way meaning is materially bound, the way readings and misreadings constitute and re-constitute the text (see Blair, 2004, and Daston, 2004). We are pushed to the edge of hermeneutics e sometimes slipping over into discussions of entire classes of material text, for instance ‘the document’, more or less evacuated of all speciﬁc content.12 A second important tradition for the history of information, especially in the history of science, is the study of inscription practices. In its Latourian origins it is deﬂationary with regard to speciﬁc ideas and theories e but in general it is, as it were, inﬂationary with regard to authority and consensus. Inscription, for Latour, is nothing less than the means by which science authorizes itself as it travels between the closed space of the laboratory and the open space of public knowledge (Latour, 1986). Inscriptions, in this sense, are speciﬁcally not material. The most literal form they take is the authoritative and idealized diagram, and this heightened respect for diagrammatic representation has itself resulted in important work, in particular by those concerned with regimes of objectivity and, more speciﬁcally, the development in the late-nineteenth century of self-recording devices and machines that promised to ‘let nature speak for itself’ (Daston & Galison, 2007).13 The term ‘paper tools’ comes from this latter tradition e speciﬁcally the series of studies by Ursula Klein on the introduction of Berzelian formulae in chemistry (Klein, 1999, 2001a, 2001b). Klein approached these tools from ‘a semiotic, historical and epistemological perspective’ (Klein, 2001a, p. 265). And those who have since talked of paper tools have generally been referring to the creative possibilities of notations (Kaiser, 2005) e an approach quite different from one that begins with the material qualities of paper. The word ‘tool’, which already has the connotation of something used without necessarily being apprehended, is particularly apt for this purpose. In contrast, others have proposed that we talk of ‘paper technologies’: a more general and fully materialized term of art, with which we might apprehend technical and social aspects of note-taking, inscriptions, reading strategies and the material book. It is in this sense, for example, that Volker Hess and J. Andrew Mendelsohn talk of ‘paper technologies’ in their important discussion of the ways in which ‘humanist textual
11 A classic in the historiography of scientiﬁc reading is Secord (2001). A useful summary in the context of the Royal Society is provided by Johns (2003). See also the contributions by Ann Blair, Lorraine Daston, and Jon Topham in the Isis Focus Section on ‘Scientiﬁc Readers’ (Blair, 2004; Daston, 2004; Topham, 2004). The move from reading as passive reception to active ‘customization’ is made explicit in the essays in the 2015 special issue of the Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies provocatively titled ‘The Renaissance Collage: Toward a New History of Reading’ e see in particular Fleming (2015). 12 This is most naturally the domain of ‘media archaeology’, a hugely rewarding area of scholarship not yet sufﬁciently integrated into the history of science. See Riles (2006) and Gitelman (2014) for the history of the ‘document’. 13 For an attempt to ‘materialize’ work on diagrams see Jardine and Jardine (2010), and for scientiﬁc illustration see Jardine (2014).
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methods [.] came to bear on medicine’ (Hess & Mendelsohn, 2010, p. 287). In showing how generalizations were drawn from individual case histories, they work from the material techniques of ‘collecting, formatting, selecting, reducing, comparing, sorting’ shared across the sciences and humanities, rather than from predeﬁned scientiﬁc communities. To put it broadly, we might say that a tool is something transparent to its user, while a technology is just the opposite: it is a material grid laid over the world, visible in itself: classiﬁcatory, controlling, empowering e and susceptible to a more socially oriented analysis.14 Yet what we lose at this theoretical level by talking of ‘paper tools’, we gain at the level of practice: ‘paper technology’ is an awkward phrase to use, and it doesn’t have the happy sense of manual empowerment. So I propose that we retain ‘paper tools’, but remember that questions of their visibility, their familiarity, their social context and their materiality are precisely at stake. Paper tools are not just notations, then, but the type-set or inscribed notation; they are not just diagrams but ‘working images’15; and, most literally, they are the ﬂexible and ingenious uses to which paper is put, by means of clipping, scoring, sorting, pasting, commonplacing, recycling, folding and so on.16 One conclusion that seems to follow from these distinctions is that what at ﬁrst sight appears a happy conﬂuence of interests e the subject we might broadly call ‘the material history of information’ e in fact breaks down into a series of sub-disciplines, each with its own separate emphasis and methodology (Aspray, 2015). Nor are these always compatible. Klein’s work on notations is less papery than Yale’s on the circulation of natural history; Keller’s use of ‘wish lists’ is much more wide-ranging and also therefore less speciﬁc than some of the recent microhistories of list-making (Pugliano, 2012); Yeo’s emphasis on communal knowledge-making does not have an obvious correlate in media histories, which have tended to be either techno-determinist or agnostic with regard to content (Kittler, 1987; Gitelman, 2014). One productive way to mark the differences in the various approaches mentioned might be to think of the relationships between success and failure, authority and contingency, creation and loss. Where the account is most clearly grounded in the material of communication and/or the reception of texts, difﬁculty abounds: records are misplaced, misinterpreted, forged; unintended uses are made of texts and no two interpretations are the same. Where the account begins from considerations of a particular genre or ideal of knowledge and its organization the ﬂow of documents appears smoother, authority over people and things more complete. These, of course, are ultimately quite fundamental questions of historical method. It is hard to imagine more careful and local studies than McKenzie’s reconstructions of the complexity of the printing-house as a site of historical research (McKenzie, 1969). But as G. Thomas Tanselle points out, McKenzie’s overreliance on the sparse archives of printing houses over their (relatively) standardized printed material leads him to play up complexity and
14 This distinction was most powerfully made by Heidegger, for example in his 1953 essay ‘The question concerning technology’ (Heidegger, 1977). 15 Credit for this phrase must go to Joshua Nall, who proposed it at the workshop ‘Embodied Knowledge: Methodological Considerations of the Histories of Culture and Science, 1500e1800’, convened by Amparo Fontaine and Lavinia Maddaluno, and held at the University of Cambridge on 4 July 2016. An alternative formulation e ‘knowing images’ e is given by Alexander Marr (2016). 16 On the newspaper clipping see te Heesen (2014); scoring was a common technique in early-modern technical drafting; on sorting see Kassell (2014); on pasting see Smith (2017); commonplacing has been written about extensively, though not in the history of science e but see Leong (2013) and Marr (2013); on recycling see Werrett (2012); paper folding in mathematics is explored in Friedman and Schäffner (2016).
contingency at the expense of the big-picture changes wrought by the development of the publishing industry.17 No big picture history is immune to the counterexample, no microhistory immune to the charge of cherry-picking. So we have a wide variation of emphasis with regard to subject, and an equally wide variety of methodologies. Between the two poles of authority and contingency lie archives: sites of power, of knowledge-making, and also of mess, disorder and decay. Since the beginning of the ‘archival turn’ in the 1990s we have moved, broadly speaking, from The Archive to (many) archives e retaining the theoretical heft of the former and acquiring the detailed texture of the latter (Yale, 2015). In the history of science, speciﬁcally, archives are now understood to be ‘instruments of invention’ as well as formative social spaces.18 The ways in which they malfunction and exclude, however, remain just as important as the ways in which they bring people together and serve creative ends. Having begun the process of breaking down what initially looked a happy conﬂuence of interests, might it now be possible to make some more constructive comments by considering the role of materiality in histories of knowledge-making and the circulation of ideas? If so, we must begin cautiously, because even the term ‘materiality’ has been called into question, in Tim Ingold’s provocative analysis (2007). For Ingold, the components of things are not accounted for in such an abstract category: so long as our focus is on the materiality of objects e that is, on what makes things ‘thingly’ e it is quite impossible to follow the multiple trails of growth and transformation that converge, for instance, in the stuccoed façade of a building or the page of a manuscript (Ingold, 2007, p. 9). ‘Materiality’, according to Ingold, does not refer to the material qualities of the world but to the packaged-up appearances of artefacts. We might appreciate the look of the façade or the feel of the manuscript, but, in talking of their ‘materiality’, we do not in fact see the former as quarried and worked stone, the latter as stripped and cured skin. In place of ‘materiality’ Ingold uses a term from the psychology of perception e ‘affordance’ e to describe the dynamic interrelatedness of the perceiver and the perceived, mind and material. This more generally material world is not made up of ‘material culture’, commodities or even things e but of surfaces, burrowed-out environments, ‘raw’ materials, degraded objects. But here we can see the beginnings of a quite different way of conceiving of the history of paper tools. Ingold intended to undermine the term ‘materiality’ itself e but it is my view that we can turn his critique into a research programme: granted that ‘materiality’ does not really refer to material but instead to the perceived, recorded and communicated surfaces of things, what is the history of materiality, as a socially constrained or constructed way of perceiving the world? The beginnings of this approach can be seen in studies of ‘sociomateriality’, for example in the work of Annemarie Mol, who writes of the way in which ‘ontologies are brought into being, sustained, or allowed to wither away in common, day-to-day, sociomaterial practices’ (Mol, 2002, p. 6). In this
17 See G. Thomas Tanselle’s (2004) critique of D.F. McKenzie’s work, which speaks of McKenzie’s ‘failure to acknowledge that printed matter is itself an archive containing primary evidence’ (p. 515). 18 I owe this formulation to Stefano Gulizia, who gave an exemplary case study in his talk ‘Gian Vincenzo Pinelli (1535e1601) and the rise of the mathematical practitioner in the Veneto’ at the British Society for the History of Mathematics conference, York, United Kingdom, 6e7 April 2017; ‘instruments of invention’ I take from Kraemer and Zedelmaier (2015).
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account, rather than weighing the relative importance of materials in the various approaches outlined above, we would instead historicize materiality itself, examining the ways in which materials have ﬂickered into view and out again. This, it should be noted, is not a new way of thinking about the material politics of information. In the early 1930s Antonio Gramsci was already drawing a sharp distinction between what we might think of as the materiality of the humanities and the sciences. ‘Matter as such,’ he wrote, ‘is not our subject but how it is socially and historically organised for production’ (Gramsci, 1971 [composed 1929e1935], p. 465). This, I contend, is the key to understanding the ‘material turn’, which drives us not to things but to the experience of things as parts of a multitude of systems of commodities, and as constituents of social reality. Amidst the inevitable complexity thrown up in this analysis, the point is to be precise about the historical circumstances of materiality. To illustrate this, Gramsci pushes naïve materialism to its limit, giving a nicely papery reductio ad absurdum: If it can be maintained that an art or a science is developed through the developments of its technical instruments, why could one not maintain quite the contrary or argue that certain instrumental forms are structure and superstructure at the same time? Thus it could be said that certain superstructures have a particular structure of their own while remaining superstructures. The art of typography would be the material structure of a whole series of ideologies, indeed of all ideologies, and the existence of the printing industry would be sufﬁcient to provide a materialistic justiﬁcation of the whole of history. (p. 461) It is not the material text or paper tool that is the object of inquiry at the expense of ideas, social relations and consensus: rather it is the interrelation of the material and immaterial, as a shifting, commercially and socially bound process. A necessary complement to this is what Londa Schiebinger and Robert Proctor call ‘agnotology’ e ‘the study of culturallyinduced ignorances’ (Schiebinger, 2005, p. 320; Schiebinger & Proctor, 2008) We might want our historical actors to follow us in making the ‘material turn’ e but sometimes materials themselves were speciﬁcally ignored, most obviously because, as Ingold acknowledges, ﬁnished products are more culturally prominent and far more heavily studied than their component materials and the conditions of labour that brought them into being. For paper, speciﬁcally, the act of ‘looking through’ an image or text is itself a (negative) response to certain kinds of printing and illustration e the latter do not become immaterial for our purposes, but, on the one hand we might want to pay attention precisely to the lack of awareness of materiality and, on the other, we ought to mark the point at which we depart from period sensibility. To illustrate how this might work I want to draw on two recent books and, in conclusion, to offer some results of my own research into early-modern paper and the trade in mathematical instruments. The most striking recent account of the material history of paper is Leah Price’s How to Do Things with Books in Victorian Britain e a wide-ranging reconstruction of the ways in which books were used without (necessarily) being read (Price, 2013). In order to break open the history of the book, Price looks at three ‘operations’: ‘reading (doing something with the words), handling (doing something with the object), and circulating (doing something to, or with, other persons by means of the book e whether cementing or severing relationships, whether by giving and
receiving books or by withholding and rejecting them).’ (Price, 2013, pp. 5e6) Here books are ‘bought, sold, exchanged, transported, displayed, defaced, stored, ignored, collected, neglected, dispersed, discarded’, these non-reading practices gathered up in what Price rather grandly calls a ‘hermeneutics of handling’ (Price, 2013, p. 9). We might linger on that phrase, which is presumably intended to forestall the criticism that this is all (at least) a step too far from the original literary historical concern with the making of meaning. But it is also something of a giveaway e and an interesting one when it comes to thinking of materiality e because the evidence that Price marshals is itself almost entirely literary. This is why it is such a novel approach: the use of books is not reconstructed from consideration of their material form, or from the tools of analytical bibliography, as is increasingly common. Rather, we are asked to look at texts not quite in and of themselves, but through the lens of literature, as they are described in Dickens, Eliot, Trollope, James et al. Hence this most radical of interventions into the history of the book uses the most conventional of literary historical techniques (for the parallel case of ofﬁcial documents as portrayed in modernist ﬁction, see Purdon, 2016). This is why (appropriately enough) we might use Price’s own book in a way that she herself perhaps does not intend. The non-reading uses of books has in fact only a limited application in thinking about the sciences. How far would we want to examine the non-experimental uses of instruments, for example? But the method e of reconstructing all the various ways in which the material form of literature was thought about e gives us a glimpse of something novel: the history of materiality itself. From Victorian Britain we now move to twentieth-century Pakistan, and Matthew Hull’s Government of Paper, a work no less concerned with the messy reality of paper (Hull, 2012). While the subject and indeed the method e literary history vs anthropological ﬁeldwork e couldn’t be more different, many of the conclusions are startlingly similar. Hull chooses the term ‘graphic artifacts’ to cover the ‘material forms of documentation and communication [that] shape the governance of the planned city of Islamabad’, and the term ‘graphic ideologies’ for the sets of conceptions about graphic artifacts held by their users, including about what material qualities of an artifact are to count as signs, what sorts of agents are (or should be) involved in them, and what the roles of human intentions and material causation are (pp. 1; 14). This approach is then extended to form the basis of a fully material account of the bureaucratic world of Islamabad, not as it was intended by its ‘high modernist’ planners but as it is experienced, and as decisions are made by ordinary citizens working with (and against) a complex bureaucracy. And perhaps we should not be so surprised that Price and Hull present such a united front, because both have learnt from and gone beyond historians of the book such as Roger Chartier e Price showing how non-reading can constitute social relation (the handing out of religious tracts), Hull showing how ‘associations’ are made and broken by a wide range of documents (the visiting card brokering a face-to-face meeting). We have reached the point, I think, where the numerous strands of materiality and inscription converge e what Hull calls ‘a comprehensive social theory of material artifacts’ (Hull, 2012, p. 27). Thinking of the early-modern period in particular, from Yeo we have seen how the individual mind of the scholar was augmented by note-taking and generalized to form a collective
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enterprise; Blair’s crucial pre-history and Keller’s political emphasis are necessary here to show that these were not merely ‘little tools of knowledge’ but big tools of power.19 In methodological terms, Price gives a virtuoso demonstration of the ways in which the period sensibility for the material text can be brought to light; Hull demystiﬁes the supposed authority of paperwork by tracing it both up and down the scale of ofﬁcialdom. The rich traditions of book history and the study of inscription practices provide solid foundations on which these insights are constructed. It is now possible to see that the phrase ‘paper tools’ has a double meaning: referring to the ways in which materially-bound genres and techniques of scholarship were used, and the apprehension of paper itself as a medium of knowledge. Hull points out that the commonplace understanding is that media function precisely by ‘drawing attention away from their materiality’ (Hull, 2012, p. 13). Yet this itself has a history e in part told by Price, who shows that the Victorians in particular ‘identiﬁed themselves as text-lovers in proportion as they distinguished themselves from book-lovers’ (Price, 2013, pp. 4e5). That is, they tended to draw attention to the material book when they wished to denigrate it; conversely the literary portrayal of ‘reading from the inside’ entailed ‘abstracting the visible book’ (Price, 2013, p. 12). This is precisely the point that Wittgenstein makes in the passage quoted in my epigraph: it is only convention that causes us to ‘see through’ paper; and he makes fun of Turing by imagining him cutting and pasting mathematical symbols rather than simply transcribing them. This is a situation in historical ﬂux, and it is easy to think of examples in which it is precisely the materiality of knowledge that determines its meaning: think of the trust in ofﬁcial documents conferred by their seals; the desire for ﬁne bindings; the ‘authenticity’ of mimeographed poetry magazines from the 1960s (Gitelman, 2014, ‘Afterword’). The point is that transparency or materiality can be in play.
4. Uneven surfaces In my own research into the production and circulation of early-modern mathematical instruments it is possible to identify a very wide range of types of materiality. If we take just the example of images of the heavens e represented either as an armillary sphere or as a two-dimensional projection e then we can see how paper came into and went out of view. It was often simply ‘transparent’, insofar as the images printed upon it were intended to lead to contemplation of the speciﬁcally immaterial heavens, i.e. the realm beyond earthly confusion and corruption. Evidence for this kind of contemplation is both textual and iconographic: both of these combine in the elaborate marginalia to Queen Elizabeth I’s French psalter, preserved in the Royal Collection, which contrasts a poem against the ‘inward suspicious minde’ with a ﬁnely drawn armillary sphere and a line from Petrarch that translates as ‘Wretched is he who places hope in mortal thing’ (Fig. 1).20 The apparently material sphere rests upon and articulates the word of God, but it is no mere ‘mortal thing’ e nor, we might add, is it in fact a material thing, either of brass or inked paper. Suspicion e speciﬁcally at court e is contrasted with private devotion, which involves a process of retraining the ‘inward minde’ to see through both the page and the material representation of the sphere, to set
19 The phrase ‘little tools of knowledge’ I take from the collection of essays gathered under that title and edited by Becker and Clark (2001). 20 For this and other annotations see Mueller and Scodel (2009, pp. 397e405).
the latter in motion mentally and perceive divine truths (Crowther & Barker, 2013). But the heavens could have other meanings, depending on the context in which images were produced and consumed. Stereographic projections on paper could be cut out and mounted onto, brass, wood or paste-board to form functioning images (Fig. 2). These were tools with speciﬁc uses in the discipline of cosmography. Here practice and manual dexterity were as important as contemplation e skill in manipulating instruments could yield results that would be hard to calculate by other means (Bennett, 2003).21 Paper instruments could be used to lay out sundials or solve problems in geography, astronomy and surveying (Bryden, 1997; Gingerich, 1993). Paper sundials were especially popular, as intermediate forms between the diagrammatic practice and instrument making proper. That images were cut out and used confounds our simplistic view of the static contemplative observer (Manovich, 1995). Paper tools were active, moving, working images, and their users were likewise active, working and mobile. Moreover, the speciﬁc material qualities of paper tools differed as they moved between different social settings. Consider the way printed stereographic projections could function as adverts e having a commercial meaning rather than an intellectual one. Through these ﬁne distinctions in the uses of paper e either as a visible substance or a transparent medium e communities of mathematical practice were brought into being and maintained, as in 1658 when the mathematician John Collins collaborated with the instrument-maker Henry Sutton to produce a book about a complex astronomical quadrant (Eagleton & Jardine, 2005, pp. 4e5). Meanwhile, through another social technology, the letter, Collins laid bare his motivation to the Oxford mathematician John Wallis: At the request of Mr Sutton I wrote a despicable treatise of quadrants. His designe was to demonstrate himselfe to be a good workman in cutting the Prints of those quadrants, and thereby to obtaine Customers, mine to Improove the Prints by Vernish, which I was certaine I could accomplish 12 yeares since, to a better lustre then this I herewith send (togeather with a sheete of my Booke) which I now send and the which, Commaculated with Dirt or Inke, will be washed away without dammage (quoted in Beeley & Scriba, 2005, pp. 193e4). Sutton’s ingenuity in making prints is allied to cynical selfpromotion e Collins’ ingenuity lies in exploiting an artisan’s skill and ambition in order to secure a paper instrument which can be varnished and sent on as a piece of mathematical communication in its own right (Fig. 2). If we are to talk of ‘materiality’ and ‘affordance’ then we have to acknowledge that these can be conjured into being and altered in the volte-face of a single sentence. Materiality depends upon and is constitutive of speciﬁc interactions in social spaces. This, in fact, is sociomateriality. This lends substance to Hooke’s homage to paper and Wybard’s and Halley’s cut-and-weigh technique, described at the outset. Paper for Hooke, as Matthew Hunter has shown, was a means of improvising brilliant, ephemeral solutions to technical problems (Hunter, 2013, pp. 68ff.). Micrographia, for example, opens with Hooke using ‘a small piece of oyly Paper’ to control the sunlight
21 Recent debates in the history of astronomy have focused on the materiality of the heavens as depicted in images and through instruments. See Bennett (2003) and Mosley (2006). At least some of the complexities here can be understood in terms of the range of uses to which paper instruments were put, from the imaginative to the purely practical and even commercial.
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Fig. 1. Pages from a French psalter (c.1525e30) annotated by Queen Elizabeth I. Royal Collection Trust / Ó HM Queen Elizabeth II 2017.
illuminating his specimens (Hooke, 1665, preface [sig.d3v]). In the context of the observations themselves paper again ﬂickers into view: in the ﬁrst set of observations, which display Hooke’s wit and wisdom in equal measure, the Euclidean point e which ‘has no part’ and with which mathematical discourse begins e is rendered physical precisely insofar it is drawn or printed on ‘the uneven surface of the paper, which at best appears no smother then a very course piece of shag’d cloth’ (Hooke, 1665, p. 3, emphasis in original; Fig. 3). This is no less surprising than the suggestion that to calculate an area we simply cut it out and weigh it. In each case the shock is caused by a sudden reversal of ﬁgure and ground: paper goes from substrate to substance. Hooke emphasizes this by showing that all man-made points are similarly ‘disﬁgur’d’: I found those points that had been made by a Copper-plate, and Roll-press, to be as mishappen as those which had been made with Types, the most curious and smoothly engraven strokes and points, looking but as so many furrows and holes, and their printed impressions, but like smutty daubings on a matt or uneven ﬂoor with a blunt extinguisht brand or stick’s end. (Hooke, 1665, p. 3). The very matter of mathematics and the surface on which religious doctrine is printed is nothing more than a bundle of processed rags. No amount of human ingenuity in printing can escape the ‘uneven surface’ of the man-made world. This does not amount to a sudden recognition of what paper really is, but
rather to the natural theology of a controversial new way of knowing. Hooke’s attention to the composition of paper is an acknowledgment that it was part of the world of commerce: when he looks directly at paper with his microscope he considers it alongside other commodities, for example linen and silk. Earlymodern paper-makers were granted monopolies not just over the making of paper but also over the ability to collect the rags from which it was made. English paper was known to be of lower quality (more unevenly weighted and rougher) than Dutch or Venetian paper. Hence when the Royal Society (following Bacon’s lead) proposed their ‘History of the Trades’ project it included the following subjects: ‘Parchment, and Vellum-making, and the way of making transparent Parchment: of Paper-making: of Hatters: of making Marble-paper: of the Rowling-Press’ (Sprat, 1667, p. 258).22 This was not in fact carried out until later in the century, when John Houghton sought advice from members of the Society in compiling his Collection for the Improvement of Husbandry and the Trade (Houghton, 1727, vol. 2, pp. 410ff. [ﬁrst published 1699]). By this point the connection between natural philosophy, commerce and international trade was explicit: through new taxes on paper which were criticized for hindering learning; through awareness of the dependence of scholarship on paper imported from the
22 On the background of the Royal Society’s History of the Trades programme see Ochs (1985).
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Fig. 2. Astronomical quadrant by Henry Sutton; paper, mounted onto brass. This instrument served as an illustration in John Collins (1659) The Sector on a Quadrant, but could also be cut out and used as an instrument, as in this example. Ó Whipple Museum of the History of Science, Cambridge, Inv. No. 5831.
continent; through the deployment of paper as a means of advancing empire, as in the inscription practices of the East India Company (Ogborn, 2007). When Halley came to use Wybard’s cutand-weigh technique to measure the size of England and Wales, it was speciﬁcally for the purpose of providing Houghton with information to calculate the proportional tax [of each county] in decimals; the acres and houses of each county; what proportion of tax, acres and houses each county bears to the whole; how many acres to each house
in each county, and what’s the Years [sic] tax to each acre, and to each house (Houghton, 1727, vol. 1, p. 68). Inquiries into paper, then, lead us far into the mental habits of scholars and the material politics of trade. It is possible, by looking at the (often quite technical) uses of paper tools, to attend to what is speciﬁc in the disciplines of the sciences, while also remaining aware that techniques were borrowed from other academic ﬁelds and were embedded in commerce and empire. Following the
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Fig. 3. A full stop (upper left-hand side), as illustrated in Micrographia (Hooke, 1665, Scheme:II, opposite p. 3). Ó The Royal Society.
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fortunes of paper, as both medium and message, we can see not only ‘knowledge in transit’ (Secord, 2004), but also the speciﬁc ways in which the material of that transit was understood e as having limited efﬁcacy outside of certain trade routes (Ogborn, 2007), as just one surface among many on which to write (Schaffer, 2007). Depending on the context and the nature of the transaction, the visible surface of paper could be observed, as in Hooke’s earthy musings; alternatively, the careful de-materialization of the medium could be brought about, as in the tradition that denigrated ‘mortal things’ in favour of heavenly perceptions. But this could be subverted when paper instruments were collected as aesthetic objects in their own right (Jardine, 2016). Indeed when it came to scholars amassing papers, Yeo and Blair show how important contemporary understandings of individual and collective ambition were, and Yale explains the historical sensibility of scholars all too aware of how much prior knowledge had been lost owing to the mistreatment of manuscripts (Yale, 2016, p. 205ff.) I do not mean to suggest that the material history of paper is the only e or even the best e means of providing a more concrete sense of the relationship between inscriptions, information and power. Rather, we have now reached a point where the wealth of recent publications speciﬁcally on early-modern paper tools allows us to see in ﬁne detail the various ways in which communities of knowledge were determined by a speciﬁc material.23 In other places and at other times, different materials and processes will be in play. Paper tools offer only weak explanations of the use of machines and instruments, of the authority of speech and physical coercion, and so on.24 Sometimes it will pay to see bibliographic transactions through the lens of literature, as in How to Do Things with Books, and for bureaucratic transactions we will need diligent ﬁeldwork in combination with a more general theory, as in Government of Paper. Following Hooke we might refer to paper’s ‘uneven surface’, thinking not only of its affordances and tactile qualities, but also its ﬂickering materiality.25 Acknowledgments Preliminary research for this essay was conducted at Cambridge University Library, during my tenure as Munby Fellow in Bibliography, 2014e15. Another important context was the ‘History and Theory Reading Group’, at the Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge, which in Michaelmas 2014 read works on the theme of ‘Paper Tools’. My ideas were further developed at two workshops: ‘Manuscript, Print and the Organization of Knowledge’, convened by Ruth Abbott, Nick Mason, Tom Mole and Dahlia Porter, and held at the Wordsworth Trust, Grasmere, 3e4 September 2015; and ‘Embodied Knowledge: Methodological Considerations of the Histories of Culture and Science, 1500e1800’, convened by
23 One axis along which the materiality of paper can be traced is gender e see the Max-Planck-Institut für Wissenschaftsgeschichte Working Group ‘Working with Paper: Gendered Practices in the History of Knowledge’, convened by Carla Bittel, Elaine Leong, and Christine von Oertzen. 24 For the speciﬁcities of material in different scientiﬁc circumstances see Clarke and Fujimura (1992), and for a case-study of the ways in which inscriptions work in ‘writing, printing and speaking’ see Bangham (2014). McKenzie’s ‘sociology of texts’ is also, in part, an attempt to apply bibliographic techniques to the spoken word. For the way in which scholarly attention on communities of the text obscures non-textual political realities see Wood (2008). 25 This is an adaptation of N. Katherine Hayles’ ‘ﬂickering signiﬁer’, which she uses to describe the ‘tendency toward unexpected metamorphoses, attenuations, and dispersions’ of digital information technologies. See Hayles (1993, p. 76).
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