Sunday, April 17, 2005

Research Questions

Thinking through my dissertation topic has led to a number of research questions. I present only potential questions since I haven't actually started analysis:

1. What is the history of the handbook? The question is the fountain head. Looking through the encyclopedia of library and information science we find no topics devoted to handbooks and the literature on the history of the book is largely devoted to popular fiction and reading for pleasure, or to scientific literature. The history of handbooks is something different. Of course, the difficulty in research the history of handbooks is difficult since "handbook" generally refers to a material facet rather than a subject facet.

2. What is the backstory of the emergence of the early handbooks? Adler tells a great story of production and representation during the closing days of the ancien regime. Can I do a similar thing for some slightly older material?

3. What is the role of the visual with respect to the textual? The handbooks have fantastic illustrations and diagrams. These representations seem to be largely forgotten or underanalyzed in scientific studies.

4. Are the two eras related? It's completely possible that there is no connection between the AGS and the theatrum machinarum. That possibility needs to be explored.

5. How do the epistemologies of science and technology differ? There are any number of answers to this particular question. An investigation of documentary form may help. For example, the early manuscript version of Besson's work shows that he attempted to develop theories of mechanics separate from existing work. A similar thread shows up in the work of Leupold. Do these efforts represent an attempt to develop cognitive authority and make the work seem more "scientific"?

6. Where is the conflict? These works are the result of a process of production. In studying any sort of labour process there must be a site of resistance or an attempt at control. While articulating the backstory of handbooks may reveal some of this information, my analysis may indicate how these things appear in the documentary materials being developed.

7. How do we resolve the (perhaps false) dichotomy between technology and representation? Frohmann's work demonstrates that articulating information as something different from the performance and materiality of documentation is untenable. In the modern literature on technology, there is a similar distinction between the documentation related to the production of an artifact and the artifact itself. My contention is that the documentation itself is an artifact that has become invisible due to its position in the chain of production. My analysis presents an opportunity to resolve this conflict.

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