The Library’s popular ‘Science in Print’ seminar series ran over two terms in 2015-16, with discrete sections on book production in the hand press period and in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In the first of two posts reflecting on the impact of the series, HPS MPhil student Edwin Rose offers a participant’s view:

“I took part in the ‘Science in Print’ seminar series during the Michaelmas and Lent terms, 2015-16 when I was writing my first and third MPhil essays. Prior to coming to Cambridge, I already had a lot of experience with eighteenth-century natural historical printed books through my previous research and my personal book collection. However, my knowledge was mainly focussed on the content of these works as opposed to the physical makeup and the processes which went into producing the books.

‘Science in Print’ is made up of a series of seven seminars, the first four, with Roger Gaskell and Anna Jones, look at book production in the early modern period, c.1500-1800. During this period, books were produced using the hand press and, whilst using examples from the Whipple Collection, which include copies of Robert Hooke’s Micrographia (1665/1667), Galileo’s Dialogo (1632), Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica (1687) and Daniele Barbaro’s La practica della perspettiva (1568), the seminar covered the production and analysis of images, bibliographical details and the technology of book production.

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For each of these sessions, the group had the opportunity to examine pivotal works in the history of science. These examples, and the opportunity to handle and examine these important books, allowed me to really connect with the history of the book and book production. This was further enhanced in the second seminar on image production, when the group had the opportunity to look at some of Roger Gaskell’s woodcuts and copper plates which really helped with the understanding of the differences between relief and intaglio illustrations during the early modern period.

The third seminar, on the technology of book production, was held in the University Library. For the first part of this session, the group had the opportunity to examine some of the books from the UL’s collections such as: Vesalius’s De humani corporis fabrica (1543), Jean-Baptiste Duhalde’s The General History of China (1736) and Sir Hans Sloane’s A Voyage to… Jamaica (1707-25), the subject of my current research. The second part of this seminar was in the historical printing room of the UL, in which students had the opportunity to hear about the use of a hand press and actually experience pulling on the lever of a reconstructed press—allowing us to understand early modern printing processes and the difficulties and time associated with book production. The opportunity to examine the books and the equipment used for book production, coupled with vital information on bibliographical details, gave me a valuable new insight into early modern books.

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The second set of seminars in the Lent Term, led by James Poskett and Sarah Bull, covered developments in nineteenth and twentieth century book production, from the hand press to the steam press and mass production, methods of illustration and different print technologies. I was particularly interested in the differences between laid paper and wove paper, which started to emerge towards the end of the eighteenth century, something I could relate to a number of books I examined for my first MPhil essay, which were occasionally made up of a mixture of different types of paper. The new methods of producing printed images were also fascinating—from relief and intaglio printing, to the development of lithography and photography in the mid nineteenth-century, although producing photographs in books remained extremely expensive until the later nineteenth-century.

We also looked at the rise of mass production and how the development of rail networks and steam shipping resulted in the expansion of internal and international markets, and the development of a colonial press itself. These topics gave us the excellent opportunity to look at a number of the nineteenth-century rarities in the Whipple collection, examples include: a first edition of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (1859), Samuel Morton’s Crania Americana (1839) and a copy of Charles Lyell’s Elements of Geology (1841).

‘Science in Print’ was highly relevant for the research I was undertaking for my first MPhil essay and my current dissertation, both of which have a heavy emphasis on the use of books in the eighteenth-century. In my first essay I examined Richard Brookes’s General Gazetteer; or, Compendious Geographical Dictionary, a little known work of eighteenth-century geography which remained in print from its initial publication in 1762 to the final edition which appeared in 1876. ‘Science in Print’ helped me understand why this work remained in print for so long and the reasons for the changes in the physical makeup and price of different editions across this period.

The short and extremely helpful lectures on image production and the ability to see the features described first hand, alongside woodcuts and copper plates, have proved to be extremely important for my current dissertation work on Hans Sloane’s A Voyage to… Jamaica (1707-25). Sloane set far more emphasis on the images in this book than printed text— over fifty percent of the total book is double page plates, all of which were produced with copper plates which had extremely high quality engravings; these proved to be so expensive that Sloane had to pay for the printing of the book himself. This has really helped me to understand the relationship between specimens, library collections and print, something I hope to continue for my future research.

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In conclusion, ‘Science in Print’ was extremely useful for giving an overview of the book trade and book production from the sixteenth to twentieth centuries, giving great insight into the changes in book production over this time, allowing me to really connect with the collections I am currently studying and those I plan to study in the future. This seminar series has enabled me to look beyond the content of the printed information, and recognise the additional importance of book production and how this might impact upon the content of a book. Additionally, ‘Science in Print’ has alerted me to the unique resources the Whipple has on offer, something which became particularly useful when I was researching my final MPhil essay on late seventeenth-century anatomical microscopy. The opportunity to personally examine these books to understand the main points made in the seminar and has allowed me to connect all the more with the history of print and the construction of the book in my independent research, something I hope to expand on in the future.”

Edwin Rose, MPhil student, Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge
March 2016

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