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The Journals and the Instrument Maker

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Visuality of Butterfield’s Instruments in the Journal des Sçavans and the Philosophical Transactions around 1680

image of Nuncius

The Paris-based instrument maker Michael Butterfield publicised novel and fine quality instruments through the Journal des Sçavans from the journal’s early days on (between 1676 and 1684). The descriptions or advertisements of Butterfield’s instruments were not restricted to textual presentations only, but often included engravings. The reasons for including such images and the role played by the visual aspects of the presentation of instruments are the focus of the present paper. The earliest historical records of Butterfield’s work are provided by the Journal des Sçavans and the Philosophical Transactions during their first two decades of publication. The significance of these records for the historian, however, extends further than the bio-bibliographical aspect. Indeed, the presence of Butterfield’s instruments in periodic journals provides a case study of the conspicuous traits of the visual part of knowledge in such media. The periodic format for erudite and technical content was still in its experimental phase. Hence this essay will focus on the codification of knowledge about technical devices for this serial format. It will also show that these illustrations seem to have played an ambivalent role on both the cognitive and the commercial levels. Finally, it discusses the ways in which images influenced the dissemination of such knowledge, particularly through these two journals. The example allows us to characterize the particular mode of visual representation adopted under the specific constraints of these early periodicals, including its pleasures and problems.

Affiliations: 1: Centre for the History of Science and Technology (CIUHCT), University of Lisbon


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