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How to Sublime Mercury: Reading Like a Philosopher in Medieval Europe

When it comes to “how-to” books, alchemy poses particular problems. Medieval alchemical treatises claimed to offer detailed advice on a host of spectacular products and processes, ranging from the Philosophers’ Stone, a transmuting agent capable of tur…

The Text as Fieldwork: The Book of Nature in Early Modern Japan

In early modern Japan, the study of nature, known at the time as honzōgaku, was primarily a bookish enterprise. The work of scholars who studied rocks and minerals, herbs and plants, flowers and trees, insects and fish, birds and animals—or, as they co…

‘A Lady’ in the Museum

Historical museum guidebooks mediate an associative network of ideas, writings, artefacts, and people. Piecing together these contingent and ephemeral encounters, and parsing original work from posthumous orders and emendation, is a difficult task that…

Formatting Modern Man on Paper: Ernst Neufert’s ‘Lehren’

When an architect in Germany designs a building, chances are that she will reach for “the Neufert” at some point—Ernst Neufert’s (1900–86) Bauentwurfslehre or Building Design Handbook.[1] Now in its 41st German edition, with 18 intern…

Mediators of Knowledge: WPA Folklorists and 1930s Migrant Culture

What kind of knowledge are we addressing when we talk about folk culture? What can we extract from work songs, ballads, lullabies, and reels? What do stories of various kinds, relayed by word of mouth, tell us about the communities they sprang from? Wh…