Research Cluster: The Making and Knowing Project

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BnF Binding

"The opportunity to work in the M&K lab to reprise this manuscript is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It is exactly what I secretly hoped for - but couldn’t have possibly imagined - when I applied to Columbia." 

- Former Student Sasha Grabovskiy

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. Entries range from:

  • Drawing-instruction 
  • Pigment-making
  • Counterfeit gem production
  • Life-casting in metal 
  • Cannon-casting
  • tree-grafting
  • Animal taxidermy
  • Preparation of stucco
  • 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.

In February 2020, the Making and Knowing Project released the first version of the Digital Critical Edition. Please check back over the coming months for additional features and content. 

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