RESEARCH CLUSTER: The Making and Knowing Project: From the Workshop to the Laboratory

Pamela Smith, Seth Low Professor of History, Director of the Center for Science and Society

Naomi Rosenkranz, Project Manager

Columbia University-Chemical Heritage Foundation Scholars collaborating on the Making and Knowing Project:

Sophie Pitman (2017-2020)
Tillmann Taape (2017-2020)
Tianna Uchacz (2016-2019)
Donna Bilak (2014-2017)
Joel Klein (2014-2017)
Jenny Boulboullé (2014-2016)


The Making and Knowing Project explores the intersections between artistic making and scientific knowing. Today these realms are regarded as separate, yet in the early Scientific Revolution, nature was investigated by skilled artisans through experimentation in the making of objects – at this time “making” was “knowing.”

Drawing on laboratory and archival research, the Making and Knowing Project crosses the science/humanities divide and explores the relationships between today’s scientific labs and the past’s craft workshops. This exploration is carried out through wide-ranging collaboration around a remarkable anonymous 16th-century artisanal and technical manuscript, BnF Ms. Fr. 640. From 2014 through 2019, M&K is creating a digital critical edition of the manuscript.

The manuscript’s “recipes” are explored through interdisciplinary methods, including hands-on reconstructions of the recipes (using historically relevant materials, tools, and processes) and new data visualization and text analysis from the digital humanities. Through university courses, “expert crowdsourcing” workshops, and public events, M&K studies the manuscript’s entries, (ranging from drawing-instruction, pigment-making, counterfeit gem production, life-casting in metal, cannon-casting, tree-grafting, animal taxidermy, and preparation of stucco, and paper mâché). The Making and Knowing Project’s brings together scholars, researchers, artisans, and students from a variety of disciplines to interpret the text, to attempt to replicate and understand its recipes and procedures, and to share this knowledge with the wider world through a digital edition.

The Making and Knowing Project’s collaborative and interdisciplinary research of this unique manuscript helps illuminate the common origins of artistic and scientific innovation in the craft workshops of the past. M&K develops new approaches for studying “how-to” texts, texts that were not meant to just be read, but were an invitation to replicate and experiment.




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