Media & the mind: art, science, and notebooks as paper machines, 1700-1830

Chicago: University of Chicago Press (2023)
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Abstract

Reason is often thought of as a fixed entity, as a definitive body of facts that do not change over time. But during the Enlightenment reason was also seen as a process, as a set of skills enacted on a daily basis. How, why, and where were these skills learned? Concentrating on the notebooks created by Scottish students over the course of the long eighteenth century, Matthew Eddy argues that notekeeping was a mode of writing and rewriting reason. He reveals it as a capability-building exercise that enabled students to mobilize everyday forms of material culture in a way that empowered them to judge and enact the enlightened principles they encountered in the classroom. The cognitive skills required to make and use notebooks were not simply aids to reason-they were part of reason itself. The book begins by problematizing John Locke's comparison of the mind to a blank piece of paper, the tabula rasa. Although it is one of the most recognizable metaphors of the British Enlightenment, scholars seldom consider why it was so successful for those who used it. Eddy makes a case for using the material culture of early modern manuscripts to expand the meaning of the metaphor in a way that offers a clearer understanding of the direct relationship that notekeepers learned to draw between reasoning and notekeeping. Starting in the home, moving to schools, and then ending with universities, the rest of the book explores this argument by reconstructing the relationship from the bottom up. Media and the Mind will prove useful to those interested in book history, manuscript culture, history of education, history of childhood, Scottish Enlightenment philosophy, and the Enlightenment broadly understood.

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Matthew Eddy
Durham University

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