Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Theatrum Machinarum in England

Why are the theatrum machinarum uniquely non-English? A recent paper--the author's names completely escapes--notes that the genre was dominated by French and Italian authors in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. German and Dutch authors took over in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Where are the English authors? Why are there no equivalent treatises published in a language that I natively read? We know that there was a market for these works in the English world. Hooke, for example, owned copies of Boekler and Besson (in German and Spanish) while James Watt learned German just so he could read the work of Leupold. I find it hard to believe that neither England nor--later--the colonies were able to produce something equivalent especially given the presence of the Royal Society. Did the advanced rhetoric of English science crush opportunites for these works of technology? Did English scientific publishing proclivities (e.g., the journal article) destroy the market for the plate-heavy and very expensive book of mechanical inventions? Was there no market demand or interest due to the undeveloped industrial state of England (I find this hypothesis impossible to believe!). Was the guild/artisan movement so prevalent that no works were required? Has the work of Moxon been overlooked as a member of this genre simply because it was written in English? The answer to all of these questions is: I have no idea. This complete absence, however, is a bit mysterious.

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