Material objects and circulation of knowledge in early modern low countries


Mihnea DOBRE

Sven Dupré and Christoph Lüthy (eds.), Silent Messengers. The Circulation of Material Objects of Knowledge in the Early Modern Low Countries (Berlin: Lit Verlag, 2011)
 Series: Low Countries Studies on the Circulation of Natural Knowledge, vol. 1,
 ISBN 978-3-8258-1635-3, pp. ii+387

This volume is a collection of ten essays on the problem of the circulation of knowledge in the Low Countries in sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The editors picked up cases of dissemination, transformation, and production of ideas that are linked to the material objects. A common premise of these studies is that material objects reveal aspects of the seventeenth-century thought that cannot be easily discriminated by a mere contemplation of ideas. In Vittoria Feola’s and Mária Luz López Terrada’s chapters these objects are seeds or plants. Koenraad van Cleempoel, Vera Keller, and Sven Dupré examine instruments of scientific use. Manuscripts are discussed in the chapters written by Jan Dijksterhuis and Claus Zittel. Eric Jorink’s chapter is about all sorts of objects gathered by the Dutch collectors. Dániel Margócsy looks at anatomical recordings in close connection to seventeenth-century debates on the methods to preserve and transmit direct medical observation through the use of anatomical preparations. Koen Vermeir presents a debate about the use of dividing rod. These ten studies are followed by some closing remarks of Harold Cook. For Cook, such studies are exemplary as they support “the recent move from seeing the history of science as an aspect of the history of ideas and culture to something more encompassing. … Histories of science, medicine, and technology are not, therefore, simply a subset of the history of philosophy. Philosophy was only one of the resources available to students of nature. … By being attentive to the ways in which material objects could be both foci for scientific study and embodiments of contemporary knowledge, the authors are contributing to the fresh and important corpus of studies on how a new understanding of nature emerged from certain kinds of engagements with the material world.” (p. 329).

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