The Common Book That Became The Rare Book

by BamBamKam on October 26, 2016 - 3:11pm

So I ended up with a very small book, with the dimensions of around 3x5 inches and weighed approximately 1 pound, by Culpepper published in 1751 titled, “Complete and Experienced Midwife.” This book was probably used by lower-classed midwifes during the 18th century as a guide to child bearing and proper remedies for the diseases. At first glance of the book, the cover is made from leather and is probably the original cover, since the cover seems to used and scuffed with marks. Once you open the book you see that the font is really small but is very legible and it is written in English, the vernacular of England. The paper has a strong tint of yellow and it could be told that it was really used since the edges of the paper have been worn down. Also, there is only one picture in the entire book and tables of contents throughout the book, which shows that it was just used in terms of emergency mostly, not for leisure. There was also a smell of burned ashes which means that it has been mostly likely in homes where the had a wooden fire place. 

There is a huge difference between what we use today as common medicine and healthcare manuals to what we see by this very book. In today’s world, everything is within a click of a button. The internet is all around us, on our laptops, our phones, and our tablets. Information can be accessed within a matter of seconds. Since there was no internet back in the 1700s (obviously), people needed a way to have a household item that could give them the information required quickly. Which is why this small book was created. As Elizabeth Eisenstein reports in here text of “Defining the Initial Shift,” these handy books were “subject to repeatability” (Eisenstein 27) so that therefore they could be easily dispersed to families that needed them. If hand written, these book might of taken ages to copy and people would be lost without it. Also, the book was made small and light, which gave it a lot of convenience to families since it didn’t take up much room. Furthermore, the book was written in the vernacular, English, so that the common person would be able to easily read it in times of trouble. This book was obviously made for convenience and ease for the common person. The print press helped, “making available to low-born men products previously used only by the high born.” (Eisenstein 35) This was a huge advance for the lower-classed people, because they rarely obtained the same type of advancement as higher-class people did. This type of book was highly useful for peasants, since they could rarely see a doctor, because either they didn't have enough money to pay for treatment or a doctor was too far away to visit unless it was major emergency, as explained in class. However, the one aspect of the book given to me that was intriguing was that there was only one picture (see picture above) in the entire book. During that period time, there were, “images, maps, and diagrams” (Eisenstein 24) in most printed books to ease the reader’s understanding of the book’s subject. Since many people weren’t very educated, pictures were a great use for people who had difficulties with medicine, which is why I find it surprising there are not more pictures. For example, a part of the book is about bearing a child for midwifes. If a person doesn’t truly know the human anatomy or how birth looks like, how does he know what the instructions say when it comes to giving birth? That is truly a surprising part of this book. Overall, this book was most probably a very common household item during its time period.

Works Cited

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


It's very interesting to see how the distribution of knowledge has changed from the early modern period to today. You make a very good point by stating that today, we have so much knowledge at our disposal on our smartphones, our laptops, and pretty much anything that can connect to the internet. However, as you stated, this was not the case in the early modern period. They had a lot more constraints to the distribution of knowledge. As you said, for the knowledge to be accessible to all, it needed to be in the vernacular and it needed to be small. So, it is very fascinating to see how the distribution of knowledge has evolved since the early modern period.