Change & Continuities On the Way to Produce Knowledge

by maggie_12345 on October 26, 2016 - 12:38pm

Empirical Observation

     During our field trip to the Osler Library, we looked at some rare books that was published a few hundred years ago. The book that our group got was called “The English Physician Enlarged With Three Hundred and Sixty Nine Medicines Made of English Herbs.” It is a medical book written by Nicholas Culpepper. It is also written in English, the author’s vernacular. The book was established in 1794. The book is small, which has dimensions about 15*20*3 cm and weighs appropriately 250g. The cover of the book is made of leather, but not premium leather. The book is nut-brown, but it is faded as time past by. The edges of the book cover start appearing to be yellowish brown. Moreover, the spine of the book is bounded with white thread, and the font of the text is similar to Times New Roman. There is neither smell on the book nor hand written notes in the margins. There are watermarks on the pages, since the book has been used a lot. This book seems to be used by physicians. There are no illustrations in the book, but it does have a table of content. In the text, some “s” characters are written as “f” characters.



     The way knowledge was produced in the early modern period is quite different from the way knowledge is produced today.

     One of the difference the way knowledge was produced in the early modern period from today is the printing and binding manners for books. I found this phenomenon on the bottom of almost every page; there is a symbol that combines a letter and a number. For example, like A2, X2 and Z3. This helps the person who binds the book to correctly organize the pages and bind the sections in the correct order. Since the same letter indicates the same section. I also notice that the last word of every page on the right bottom is always the first word of the next page. This technique helps the person who bind the book to correctly arrange the pages in order, even though some of them are unliterate. Nowadays, we certainly do not use these techniques to print books since we do not need people to arrange the order of the book and bind them by hands. We do have page number on the upper corner on each page, like what people in early modern period did. All of these can easily be done by printing machines nowadays, which is faster and more precise.

     Another difference between the way knowledge was produced in the early modern period and today is that the precision and accuracy of the knowledge. In the early modern period and before 16th century, the period that printing skill had not been invented and used extensively throughout the Europe, there was a type of job called “scribe”. This is the job that requires a person to write books or documents by hand, in order to make hand copy of the scripts. This job is hard and with great responsibility, since books are important tools to spread knowledge. Therefore, it is important for the scribes to make the identical copies as the original book. Eisenstein said that “The difficulty of making even one ‘identical’ copy of a significant technical work was such that the task could not be trusted to any hired hands”(Eisenstein, 65). Due to this reason, the amount of books has been produced were limited. The printing skills in the 21st century perfectly solved this problem. Nowadays, books are mostly printed and bound by the machines. Therefore, the product of the books are all identical, as long as they were printed from the same original text. This new way of printing method is much more efficient than making books by hand-copying. Meanwhile, this evolution of printing method dramatically increases the output of books and the spread of knowledge. Although, the purpose of publishing books is the same for both early modern period and today, which is to produce and spread knowledge.

     In conclusion, the way knowledge is produced is different between early modern period and today because the printing and binding manners of books, as well as the precision and accuracy of the knowledge. However, there are both changes and continuities based on the way that early modern people produce knowledge. The evolution of printing method has significantly shifted the way to produce knowledge since ancient times.

Word Count:736 words



Culpepper, Nicholas. The English Physician Enlarged With Three Hundred Sixty Nine Medicines Made of English Herbs, 1794.

Eisenstein, Elizabeth. “Defining the Initial Shift,” The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe, 2nd Edition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005):13-45.



I think that the invention of the printing technics has changed the way that knowledge was distributed rather than the way that it was produced. With the improvement of printing technics, more people are able to have access to medical and all sort of other kind of knowledge as it is easier to produce books in mass. I agree that the printing skill influences the progress in discovering new medical knowledge since "books are important tools to spread knowledge".

I pretty much agree with xl on this one. It seems you have mixed up the production and the distribution of knowledge. Indeed, nowadays, knowledge is distributed in the form of printed, paperback books today, where as before, printing was somewhat more rudimentary. That has nothing to do with the production of knowledge. Furthermore, you say that in the Early Modern Period, there was this job of scribe what consisted in recopying books to make more copies of it. That is probably true, but I know that the book that you observed was printed rather than recopied by hand, for I have analyzed that book myself. Therefore, the method knowledge distribution you are referring to does not apply to the book in question, which might mislead readers as to if the book was printed or not. However, I did find the part on the binding of the book quite well explained. The way you put it was easy for me to understand, and it clarified a few elements I was unsure of.