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Sociable Knowledge
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Sociable Knowledge
Natural History and the Nation in Early Modern Britain

Elizabeth Yale

360 pages | 6 x 9 | 9 illus.
Cloth 2016 | ISBN 9780812247817 | $75.00s | Outside the Americas £60.00
Ebook editions are available from selected online vendors
A volume in the series Material Texts
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Meticulously researched, [Sociable Knowledge] provides a fine-grained account of how the world of early modern natural historical research worked. . . . Elizaberth Yale has provided a useful antidote to the idea that historians, or indeed others, should attempt to set out a single, unified vision, of what Britain is or was. The first methodical topographers were wise—or humble—enough to allow a multifaceted, sometimes contradictory Britain to emerge from the jumbled testimonies of her inhabitants." -Times Literary Supplement

"Yale toggles deftly, in delightfully clear and organized prose, between the local particulars of both material and textual collections and the national visions they served. In so doing she makes a substantial and meticulous contribution to many fields, from the history and sociology of science to literary studies and early modern cultural history, as well as museum, media, and communications studies."—Bibliographical Society of America

"Sociable Knowledge is the first work I know of that discusses every means of early modern scientific communication—letters, conversation, printed books—their perceived advantages and limitations, and their complementary and supplementary roles. It is a book of exemplary scholarship and erudition."—Sachiko Kusukawa, University of Cambridge

Working with the technologies of pen and paper, scissors and glue, naturalists in early modern England, Scotland, and Wales wrote, revised, and recombined their words, sometimes over a period of many years, before fixing them in printed form. They built up their stocks of papers by sharing these materials through postal and less formal carrier services. They exchanged letters, loose notes, drawings and plans, commonplace books, as well as lengthy treatises, ever-expanding repositories for new knowledge about nature and history as it accumulated through reading, observation, correspondence, and conversation. These textual collections grew alongside cabinets of natural specimens, antiquarian objects, and other curiosities—insects pinned in boxes, leaves and flowers pressed in books, rocks and fossils, ancient coins and amulets, and drafts of stone monuments and inscriptions. The goal of all this collecting and sharing, Elizabeth Yale claims, was to create channels through which naturalists and antiquaries could pool their fragmented knowledge of the hyperlocal and curious into an understanding and representation of Britain as a unified historical and geographical space.

Sociable Knowledge pays careful attention to the concrete and the particular: the manuscript almost lost off the back of the mail carrier's cart, the proper ways to package live plants for transport, the kin relationships through which research questionnaires were distributed. The book shows how naturalists used print instruments to garner financing and content from correspondents and how they relied upon research travel—going out into the field—to make and refresh social connections. By moving beyond an easy distinction between print and scribal cultures, Yale reconstructs not just the collaborations of seventeenth-century practitioners who were dispersed across city and country, but also the ways in which the totality of their exchange practices structured early modern scientific knowledge.

Elizabeth Yale teaches history at the University of Iowa Center for the Book.

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