Tracts of Action

Material, Visual, and Practical Dimensions of Early Modern How-to Books


Volume Editor:
This volume offers the user a guide to the neglected field of how-to books. How do I make soap? How do I dye textiles? What ingredients do I need for a effective remedy? How can one find and mine mineral resources, how does one make pewter cups or a good meal? Practical information of this kind, on distillation, medicine, dyeing, cosmetics, glassmaking, ceramics, metallurgy and many other subjects, flooded the book market in the first centuries of printing. As varied as these subjects are the research questions that we might ask: How do you learn practical skills from a book? Why were these books so popular, who used them and how, and can they even be considered to be a clearly defined genre?
The aim of this volume, which emerged from a conference at the Herzog August Bibliothek Wolfenbüttel, is to find out which patterns characterise the genre of how-to books or “Rezepte-Büchlein”. It also aims to contribute to the clarification of terms for a genre, that operates under labels such as “Books of Secrets” and "recipe books" or, in German-speaking countries, "Kunst- und Wunderbuch" or “nützlich büchlein”.
Some key issues addressed in the book include the traces of book use, the media shift from manuscript to print, the interaction between text and image, and the praxeological dimension of practical books. Self-help literature not only made it possible for interested laypersons to obtain information from all possible fields of knowledge, largely independent of institutional and educational environments; as "tracts for action" they differed from other genres in that they were consistently oriented towards implementation.

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E-Book (PDF)
Stefan Laube, Humboldt University Berlin, is Professor of Cultural Studies at that university. He has published a lot of monographs and articles, including Der Mensch und seine Dinge. Eine Geschichte der Zivilisation, erzählt von 64 Dingen (Hanser, 2020)
List of Figures and Tables
Notes on Contributors

Introduction: How-to Books – the Birth and Development of an Understudied Genre
Stefan Laube

1 Can There Ever Be Clueless Advice Books? Remarks on Plague Tracts
Stefan Laube

Part 1: Materiality and Traces of Use

2 ‘Take’, ‘Do’, ‘Check’: Readers and Uses of Early Modern How-to Books in the Collection of the Herzog August Bibliothek
Petra Feuerstein-Herz

3 Who Owned the Margarita Philosophica and How Was It Read?
A Survey of the Sixteenth-Century Copies in the University of Glasgow Archives & Special Collections
Robert MacLean

Part 2: Entanglements of Jotted, Printed and Digital Steps

4 Text – Medium – Recording System: Recipes in Books
Sven Limbeck

5 A Commerce of Secrets: Digital and Performative Approaches to an Early Modern How-to Manuscript at the Making and Knowing Project
Tillmann Taape

6 Compilation Networks: Making Early Modern Books of Secrets
Simone Zweifel

Part 3: Text and Image Simultaneity

7 How to Fly? Some Thoughts on a Windy Skill
Laurence Grove and Stefan Laube

8 Playing with Recipe Conventions in Den sack der consten
Andrea van Leerdam

Part 4: Prescription and Improvisation

9 ‘That’s How You Do It!’ or Better not? Early Modern Recipes and Their Readers
Laura Balbiani

10 Smelling Good While Conjuring the Spirits
Use of ‘Perfumes’ in Medieval and Early Modern Magic Books
Sergei Zotov

11 The Duchess’s Medicine Chest: Prescriptions and Medicines for Sophia of Brunswick-Lüneburg (1522–1575)
Britta-Juliane Kruse

The intended audience for this book comprises individuals with an interest in practical, lucid, and achievable knowledge across various domains. This includes but is not limited to craftsmanship, healthcare, alchemy, distillation, as well as media and book studies.
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