Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Thoughts on Communities

[ed. Presented herein is an older piece that I found lurking on one of my other machines. It' s out of sequence, but not by much]

The purpose of this piece is primarily to distinguish some of the communities that may have existed for the authors of the early theatres of machines. As a rough first cut I can explore the communities articulated by Darnton for the book industry in general: author, publisher (and bookseller), the printer, the shipper, the bookseller, and the reader. However, these criteria are primarily for books as standards things i.e., things that get thrown on the shelf, things without some sort of material agency in their social relations. While I have a handy excuse for not really knowing much about these categories, other people will be asking the question so they should probably be addressed.

Author- deriving the motives of the authors is a challenge. Ramelli, for example, was primarily a martial engineer and architect. His work may have been a means of driving revenue or perhaps a way of garnering greater patronage. The cases of Besson or Leupold are different. These authors were primarily mathematicians and instrument makers. Their works may have been a form of marketing. How the authors actually created their works in another matter completely. I have no idea what they would have gone through to get things produced. While Ramelli had Amboise Bachot to create his engravings, I’m not sure what Besson or Leupold had to go through. The actual conditions of production are inherently going to have an impact on what gets produced and the material traces that are left over so these things are probably worth knowing.

Publisher/printer/bookseller- I really don’t know anything about these topics. Ramelli published his work himself; Besson had Gesner as a publisher; Leupold—I have no clue. Again, as actors in the network of creation, all of them likely would have had a dramatic influence on the resulting artifacts so this kind of information is probably worth knowing. Of course, I have Darnton’s work as an ally along with the work of prominent authors like Eisenstein and Burke to address some of these questions. I even recall reading about the conditions of production that Agricola experienced in the creation of De re metallica (perhaps as a cover art commentary in Technology and Culture).

Reader- So who were the readers of these works? Well, the aristocracy was obviously one type of reader given the inscriptions carried by the works themselves and their presence in private collections. There must have been other readers. One author (Gnudi perhaps) reports that many copies of Bessons work have been worn out with use so these things were used. Hooke owned Besson as did Galileo so they must have useful to early technologists and scientists despite being written in Latin. Perhaps this is an important question: who was the reader? How did the documentary forms adapt to accommodate the reader? [ed. Wow. What a simple—and yet crucial—question. How have I missed it?]

Other communities- Accounts provided by SCOT studies indicate that there are any number of other communities that could be involved in the stabilization or closure of a documentary form. From a SCOT perspective, they may all be lumped into Darnton’s category of “reader”. I’m just not sure where to go from here… I suppose we could go with something like amateur, collector, engineer, scholar, scientist or something of the like. Some of issues that may emerge include the notion of the lay reader (all of those Besson editions had to be going somewhere). This transition was perhaps driven by the picture book format of the TM rather than prose-heavy latin works.

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