Demonstrations and Experiments with "Epistemological Decorum": seventeenth century Quakers practicing writing technologies and the Scientific Revolution
Women's Studies, University of Maryland, College Park
Paper written for the "Imaging Nature: technologies of the literal and the Scientific Revolution" Colloquium, at The Folger Shakespeare Library, to be discussed 27 February 2004
This paper is concerned to begin discussion of three layers of analysis regarding technologies of the literal and the scientific revolution. (I am working here to outline some interrelated research projects, the intersection of which I am only just beginning to engage, and to ask for your indulgence for the preliminary character of my work so far.)
- First, I wish to investigate what I call "writing technologies" of 17th c. England, a term that perhaps counterintuitively goes beyond inked words on paper. In this essay I will refer to several writing technologies while outlining research into at least two: so-called "plain style"; and a 17th c. Quaker practice of enactment/reenactment some scholars call "going naked as a sign." "Plain style" is used by some to describe both the writings in the new science (as paradigmatically practiced by, say, members of the Royal Society, perhaps Robert Boyle in particular) and of various "testimonies" practiced by Quakers: of dress and address for example. And "going naked as a sign" and the practices of disciplined "experiment" also have strange continuities, as well as obvious discontinuities, that I wish to reflect upon. Although I ultimately intend to connect these technologies to Quaker women's writing technologies, doing so centrally is beyond the scope of this particular essay, although I will address some issues of gender, sometimes directly, sometimes obliquely. The term "writing technologies" as I use it attempts to take into account ideologies layered in time and space under which writing has been divided--and also cannot be divided--from other generations of cultural meaning. The "oral" and the "written" are not conceived of here as mutually exclusive terrains, each with distinct epistemologies and ideologies. Rather than reproducing their distinction as numerous variants on the division between nature and culture, instead "writing technologies" are historically variant in finer grain, by alternate scales, in myriad hybrid forms, commingling in material and ideological proliferations. I am always interested in women's writing technologies and various relations of power that writing technologies embody.
- Thus another layer of analysis I wish to engage with some degree of explicitness are those practices of classification and categorization, which one might call non-pejoratively "presentist," which help us access pasts. A specific set of feminist methods and values I will take for granted here, despite their various "presentisms," although I am happy to discuss them. I am especially interested right now in a "global" or "meta" use of the term "enactment" to point to or "lump" together particular ranges of writing technologies that provoke me now. I find these ranges especially interesting for the continuities and discontinuities (or lumping and splitting) across the notion of "witnessing" that I first encountered in Steve Shapin and in a feminist revision by Donna Haraway. "Plain style" is also characterized by broad continuities and local discontinuities, the attention to which matters in scholarly work across disciplines and time periods (at the very least). Lumping and splitting, grain of analysis, timescale, noting/creating hybrid objects of study (such as "writing technologies" or "technologies of the literal"), all these attend to some of the kinds of classification work that has to be done to access pasts. I like to use Leigh Star's term "comparing the incomparable" to name this set of concerns. In this essay I will attempt a writing and citation practice that highlights these present-full mediations and interests. In other words, I will not demote the secondary literature and prioritize primary and archival materials, although I will attempt to interlayer them. It is also the case that at this preliminary stage my own archival research has been limited to work on selected Quaker materials (mostly printed ones) at the Folger, the Huntington, Swarthmore's Friends Historical Library, and Howard Brinton's personal library at Pendle Hill, Pennsylvania, as well as the microfilmed materials from Early English books, 1641-1700. The most important Quaker manuscript materials are at the Library of the Society of Friends, London, and I have had access only to those which are microfilmed in four copies, looking at the copy at Swarthmore.
- Finally I would like to distill--using Bruno Latour's injunction to "break the Enlightenment Contract "--another layer of analysis and methodological prescription that matters in these discussions. Latour argues that this Enlightenment Contract allows us as "moderns" to practice both purification and hybridization only at the cost of keeping each compartmentalized from the other. Breaking this Contract means practicing both simultaneously, together, and realizing that "we have never been modern." A provoking prescription for those of us interested in the so-called "early modern" period. What would it take to practice both purification and hybridization together? What methods preclude breaking the contract? (As you might now guess, it is with this prescription in mind that I practice the investigation of "writing technologies.") Latour argues that the Enlightenment project of proclaiming (capital u, capital s) Universal Science has to be replaced by a future project of "relative universalization" to instead create together such (small u, small s) science along the lines of many local sciences that emergency global conditions today make only too obstructive. In this paper I would like to make this concern more concrete by examining the critiques made by Michael Hunter of Birch's 1744/1772 edition/s of Boyle's Works and to speculate about what is gained and what is lost when "tidying up the archive." Discussion of Elizabeth Potter's heroic attempt to revise Shapin's work on Boyle to include issues of women as well as gender is perhaps pertinent here.
Taking up the Cross of plain style and other naked enactments
"Plain style," as used to describe Quaker practices, usually refers specifically to alterations in dress, greetings and salutations, the use of titles and honorific pronouns, a range of gestures, the naming of days of the week and months of the year--and more broadly to a range of values about speech, communication and presentation habits generally; it could also refer as well as to prescriptions for speech and silence within the Quaker meeting itself. Sociolinguist Richard Bauman calls many of these forms "politeness phenomena," although today that term makes them sound rather trivial. He points out that in the seventeenth century these alterations radically challenged the very fabric of social relations and interaction and were ever present in the conduct of everyday life. Quakers understood these practices as evidence of "truthfulness in all things." This demand entailed "extreme literalness": customary behavior might be shunned as a lie: "...but to say the evil day is a good day, is to speak a lie."
For example, the Quaker use of "thee" rather than "you" was prescribed for at least two reasons: "literally" Quakers contended, "you" was the plural form and should not be used when referring to individuals. But more complexly, differential uses of "you" and "thee" were indications of social hierarchy: "thee" indicating either someone of equal status or someone of inferior status. To use "thee" to those who thought themselves of superior status was a challenge to their social standing, and by early Quaker standards this humiliation of their pride was instrumental in that person's salvation. Such "humiliations"--intended or unintended--in the early years of Quakerism provoked extreme reactions, often violent ones. Bauman notes: "Some years later, looking back on that early period, Fox recalled that Friends were 'in danger many times of our lives, and often beaten, for using those words to some proud men, who would say, "Thou'st 'thou' me, thou ill-bred clown," as though their breeding lay in saying "you" to a singular.'" The suffering that Quakers themselves endured as a result of these violent reactions they understood to be instrumental in their own salvation.
As time went on, these Friends' usages were increasingly understood as "peculiar" but relatively harmless practices, and they were intended less confrontationally: for example, saying "Thee Friend" mitigated the face-threatening aspects. Nevertheless, as Bauman points out, "it very soon became a part of the process of convincement to undergo a struggle in taking up the cross of the plain speech, dreading the social consequences, temporizing, delaying and postponing the adoption of the proper forms, and feeling intensely guilty about one's failure to do the right thing, until the breakthrough was finally achieved." (Bauman references here in part the 1660 tract A Battle-Door for Teachers and Professors to Learn the Singular and Plural, authored by George Fox, Benjamin Furly and John Stubbs. Remember the name "Benjamin Furly.")
The title of Bauman's book, Let Your Words Be Few, reflects the ideology of speech and silence among early Quakers. Speech was "fleshly." Silence was less a rejection of speech than its refinement: a sacrifice of self-will. Idle speech was rejected. Bauman notes, "Appropriate, unadorned, minimal speech was called, in the idiom of the period, 'plain speech'...." Allowing God to speak through you, not speaking as yourself, that is to say, preaching, was another version of sacrificing self-will, and was appropriate speech.
Public preaching in particular was also a challenge to social relations and interaction. In a collection that examines "witnessing" as an action of Quaker women across time, and in her book on women's prophecy, Visionary Women, historian Phyllis Mack addresses the challenges to gender that public preaching created. Quaker women's public preaching was understood by Quakers as both the self-sacrificing act of individual women who followed God's "leading" rather than their own self-will (which normatively would have kept them from speaking publicly since it was a cultural humiliation for women to do so); and also a sign of the Second Coming, the proclamation of which was the substance of such preaching among early Quakers. Thus Quaker women practiced preaching as a personal humiliation instrumental to their own salvation, and as an enactment of the biblical assurances which declared that the prophesying of daughters would precede, mark, declare and even instantiate the Second Coming. Public preaching, in the 1650s and 60s especially, might well entail the sacrifice of one's home, family, spouse and children to take up itinerant travel in same-sex pairs. (The most famous of these were "yoak-mates" Katherine Evans and Sarah Cheevers, who, attempting to travel to Turkey to evangelize the Sultan in 1658, on their way were imprisoned by the Inquisition on the Island of Malta. Their tracts about their "sufferings" were instrumental in obtaining their eventual release.")
Mack describes a range of meanings around gender terms that made the whole set of categories strangely multiple for Quakers. First of all, since public speech was conventionally "male" and since God was conventionally understood as somehow "male", Quaker women's public speech, through which God himself spoke, was also "male." "In the Spirit," that is to say, inspired by God in their enthusiastic prophecy, such women were actually "Men" or "Female-men." "Male and Female-men" preached; Mack says: "'Womanhood' was used metaphorically to identify those who could not preach." As Quaker Edward Burrough advised both men and women: "...root out the whorish Wo-man within your selves, which is not permitted to speak in the Church.... the Wo-man, the unprofitable talker, the vain babbler...." Addressing the ministers of the established Church who attacked women for preaching, Quaker Priscilla Cotton declared: "Indeed you yourselves are the women that are forbidden to speak in the church, that are become women."
Conversely, since public preaching entailed sacrificing one's individuality, indeed becoming a passive vehicle through which God alone speaks, such passivity for men was strangely "female." The assumption of God's authority by women preaching was "male," the surrender of (male) authority to God by men was "female." Mack examines Quaker ideas of perfection "in what one might call its liquefying aspect, it potential for loosening definitions of gender and encouraging women and men to speak and act with the traditional attributes of both sexes." And she notes gender fluid verbal imagery Quakers used. Margaret Fell's first letter of convincement to George Fox (1652) spoke to him as "our dear nursing father": "take pity on us whom thou hast nursed up with the breasts of consolation."
The ecstatic element of sacrificing one's individuality in this gender fluid way by both Quaker women and men, and the body discomforts/pleasures with which it was associated (of which "quaking" was one outward manifestation), are often classed within the broad general term of the period, "enthusiasm." Mack claims: "The Quakers repudiated all... gestures of deference and oppression, and their displays of tears, symbolic dress and undress, partial paralysis, and involuntary quaking were clear statements that they had divorced themselves from all corrupt habits of social ritual, self-glorification, or control." Mack interprets this all together saying, "Quakers not only bathed in a sea of polymorphous spiritual nurture and eroticism; they occasionally wrote as if they had succeeded in floating above gender altogether. Thus, 'one Williamson's wife...said in the hearing of divers [people]...that she was the eternal Son of God; And when the men that heard her, told her that she was a woman, and therefore could not be the Son of God: She said no, you are women, but I am a man.'"
Quakers moved within what I call an "ecology of writing technologies" that were interlinked in 17th c. England. Varieties of speech, including public speech, symbolic enactments, manuscript and print publication are among the variants on "writing technologies" that materialize Quaker (and other 17th c. ) practices. George Fox in his Journal registered warnings "by word, by writing, and by signs." Symbolic enactments were one kind of "sign," "lumped" together by scholars under the phrase, "going naked as a sign" (an "emic," or local use term, relocated to "etic," or abstract analytic use), which included partial dress and undress as simultaneously literal and metaphoric displays. Mack narrates (from The Great Book of Sufferings, a manuscript that resides in Friends House in London today) that in 1661: "Sarah Goldsmith sewed a full-length coat of sackcloth, which she put on with no other clothing save shoes, her hair hanging loose and smeared with ashes; on seven different days she walked through the streets and stood silently in front of the high cross before the marketplace as a sign against the pride of the city of Bristol." Such an enactment was simultaneously literally a self-sacrificing humiliation of her own pride as well as a metaphor for challenging Bristol's pride. In response to the passing of the first of the Acts known as the Clarendon Code, the Quaker Act in 1662, Mack recounts: "The day after one government raid, Solomon Eccles passed through Bartholomew Fair as a sign, 'naked with a pan on his head full of fire and brimstone, flaming up in the sight of the people, crying repentence among them, and bade them remember Sodom.' The following Sunday two women appeared at St. Paul's, one 'with her face made black, and her hair down with blood poured in it, which run down upon her sackcloth which she had on, and she poured also some blood down upon the altar and spoke some words.'" George Fox said of William Peares, who died in prison about 1654: "The cause of his imprisonment was because he was moved to strip himself naked, a figure of all the nakedness of the world...It was the naked that suffered for the naked truth, a figure of your nakedness." Nakedness was simultaneously literally his own, a figure of the world, an example of many others, the abstract principle, and the essential truth of the one addressed.
The point of this paper is to ruminate in several registers on what "going naked as a sign" and Quaker "plain style" (and some other writing technologies) have to do with communication strategies of the so-called new science of the same time period. In describing the first two sociolinguist Bauman contextualizes all these together, that is, creates continuities across them and indeed with Puritan theology (a "lumping" practice on Bauman's and implicitly on my own part here, at least initially): "Frustrated by these linguistic obstacles [the elegances of Catholic Latin, for example] to clear scientific expression and communication across languages, the scientists of the Royal Society and their brethren, like the Puritan theologians, pursued an ideal of semiotic simplicity in which language might be reduced to its purest referential terms." Bauman also refers to Sprat's History of the Royal Society which he claims: "expresses well the communicative strategies and goals of the new scientific movement: simplicity, economy, and plainness. Their impulse was: [he quotes from Sprat]: "to reject all the amplifications, digressions, and swellings of style, to return back to the primitive purity and shortness when men delivered so many things almost in an equal number of words. They have extracted from all their members a close, naked, natural way of speaking, positive expressions, clear senses, a native easiness, bring all things as near the mathematical plainness as they can, and preferring the language of artisans, countrymen, and merchants before that of wits or scholars."
Using "plain style" as a meta-term, with its associations with extreme literalness, with truth value, with minimal, perhaps self-sacrificing speech, creates some continuities across variant "writing technologies" even when named differently locally. The most consequential of the Quaker symbolic enactments (scholars often pejoratively call it "extravagant") was in 1656. It is usually called something like "the Nayler episode," although Phyllis Mack insists on switching conventional gender priorities and phrasing its primary figurative individuals thus: "Martha Simmonds and James Nayler." (Sometimes spelled "Naylor.") A range of feminist reconceptualizations concerning early Quakerisms strategically reprioritize--like the switch in a Necker cube--women's locations and participations in pivotal historical events, and especially among the leaders of early Quakerisms, deliberately made plural (a splitting practice). First, emphasizing James Nayler is one intervention into Quaker histories that create George Fox as their origin point: an assertion of the plurality of leaders among variant Seekers that are named retrospectively "Quakers" (splitting what might be called "timescales").
Second, by naming Martha Simmonds first, Mack registers that women were actually the first prophets among Quakerisms, and that Martha Simmonds in particular was a pivotal figure of the time, such that that her participation in the enactment known as "the Nayler episode" needs to be examined. Simmonds began her London prophecies in 1654, a year before Nayler himself arrived in London after serving in the New Model Army; he quickly became a leading Quaker. Nayler was appreciated by some and criticized by others for strong connections with and support of women prophets. (He was the only male Quaker to have his writing prefaced by women writers: Sarah Blackborow [How sin is strengthened (1657)]; Mary Booth [Milk for babes (1661)]; and Rebeckah Travers [A message from the spirit of truth (1658)]. Nayler himself prefaces Martha Simmonds' tract O England, thy time is come [n.d.])
But when Simmonds was criticized for speaking "in her will" by male leaders Francis Howgill and Edward Burrough, and asked Nayler for support, he hesitated. (Leo Damrosch says that Nayler was "reluctant to exert authority even when the people around him demanded it.") She approached him again at a public meeting and "berated him loudly for his indecision" says Mack. Simmonds wept: "'I looked for judgment, but behold a cry.'" Nayler was dumb-struck, and collapsed. He "lay at Simmonds' house for three days and nights in a state of depression close to catatonia." Shortly afterwards Nayler was imprisoned and it was Simmons who was able to get Cromwell to release him (she had nursed Cromwell's sister). She then traveled to where George Fox was imprisoned and "demanded that Fox submit to Nayler's higher authority." (Following Damrosch, this was the higher authority [divine?] of refusing [worldly male?] authority.)
Mack then narrates: "Once released from prison in October 1656, Nayler, Simmons, and a group of disciples staged a procession through the gates of the city of Bristol in imitation of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem, Nayler riding on an ass and the others [five men and three women] accompanying him, waving branches and crying 'holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Sabaoth,' the women spreading garments before him. They were arrested almost immediately, and letters written by his male and female followers addressing him as Christ or the messiah were found in his pockets, one young woman claiming that Nayler had raised her from the dead in prison, crying 'Dorcas, arise.' [Just for comparison, Fox had claimed to have performed miracles of this same sort himself in his Journal originally. These were edited out later and in the 1940s finally republished as George Fox's 'Book of Miracles'.] Following an extended and impassioned parliamentary debate and trial, Nayler was publicly whipped, was branded on the forehead with a 'B' (for blasphemy), and had a hole bored through his tongue."
(Mack briefly notes, somewhat pejoratively, "in the chaotic aftermath," the ritual that Simmonds conducted "that suspiciously resembled a communion service, a direct violation of Quaker practice." Some feminist scholars in the history of women and religion valorize "the Nayler episode" and Simmonds' role in this ritual specifically as an assertion of women's agency in a period that celebrated self-sacrificing passivity as the locally misrecognized price for women's action. Although Simmonds was estranged from Quakers for a time, she died nine years later, reunited and traveling in public Quaker ministry.)
In his Introduction to The Sorrows of the Quaker Jesus: James Nayler and the Puritan Crackdown on the Free Spirit, literary scholar Leo Damrosch, discusses the various interests in Nayler by each of a range of disciplinary locations and religious interests--himself pointedly focusing his meaning of "the Nayler episode" on that antinomianism that, put to the test, made "literal what was normally figurative."(He says: "I use the term 'antinomian' in the same sense in which Nayler himself understood it, as the replacement of an external moral law by an internal, spiritual one." Some Quakers today understand this as a version of "realized eschatology.") Locations and interests Damrosch indexes are: anti-Quaker tracts of the period (which made it a "cause célèbre at the national level") as well as later Quaker apologists, 18th c. historian Hume taking his cue from Hobbes' Behemoth, sociologists from Weber to Walzer, historical and literary scholarship on Calvinistic Puritanism, 20th c. Quaker historians and biographers, political and social historians seeing Nayler as minor because unsuccessful and historians who saw him as demented, and the romantic recovery of Nayler by Christopher Hill as a member of a kind of 17th c. counterculture anticipating Marxism. As a literary scholar Damrosch himself participates in a recent recovery of 17th c. Civil War and nonconformist writing for which new historicism and other literary histories have supplied fresh forms of legibility and literary value.
Bauman judges "going naked as a sign" as a failed form of communication because "it was oversaturated with literal truth value." (And, of course, because some people were punished with varying degrees of violence for performing these signs.) Bauman notes that these enactments refused to be read figuratively and insisted on being understood literally. He assumes their enactors, though, wished them to be understood figuratively, indeed metaphorically as counterfactual. But Damrosch is clearer. "The performance of the sign thus entailed a doubly negative aspect: in the person exhibiting it, a conviction of fulfilling a divine mandate in opposition to personal self-interest; and in those who witnessed it, an offense to ordinary social standards that actually served to authenticate it.... If the person was subsequently ridiculed for the sign, other Quakers would be all the more encouraged to emulate it....it was no objection to the sign that it might seem counterproductive in its effect. The function of the sign was to bear prophetic witness rather than to get practical results; it fulfilled its purpose simply by being performed."
The "realized eschatology" claimed retrospectively by Quaker reformers today is summarized by Damrosch as the common belief of both Fox and Nayler: "there is no need to wait for an individual, personal Messiah to appear...Christ's second coming is an internal and spiritual manifestation that is fully accomplished here and now. The Second Coming has always already occurred." He goes on to specify Nayler's variation on this: "Nayler and his companions were thus witnesses to an atemporal second coming....Nayler's sign at Bristol was symbolic, then, in a literal and not just an allegorical sense....Christ's passion could no longer be seen as a decisive historical event but would need to be reenacted perpetually. This, I think, is precisely what Nayler did believe....Christ's sacrifice is...a pattern of suffering that the believer literally and personally relives. Nayler's experience at Bristol not only resembled the passion of Christ, but in a real sense he must have believed that it participated in the passion of Christ.... What he did in Bristol...was to permit his followers to stage the passion of Christ, with himself as protagonist like an actor in a mystery play, enacting in a deliberately challenging form the daily taking up of the cross that was commonly invoked as a mere metaphor, but that needed to be internalized and lived as a potent sign. The tragic absurdity of the actual performance, the handful of bedraggled singers trudging knee-deep in mud, was actually essential to the enactment. " As was its punishing aftermath.
(I am interested not only in the similarity here with mystery plays and the impossibility of their enactment after the Blasphemy Laws of 1606, which Sarah Bechwith points out "rendered performance of religious materials both practically impossible and conceptually unthinkable"; but I am also interested in the similarity with the Ignatian exercises, their discipline of the senses and the imagination, in contrast to the conventional wisdom on an "undisciplined" loss of "control " in "enthusiasm" and in this "extravagant" example.)
Notice how this is a variation on the taking up the cross of plain speech and public preaching, similar ongoing suffering enactments. Damrosch describes how Parliament itself was "conscripted" into this ongoing enactment, to create the site and actions of crucifixion, and that that very end was foreseen by Nayler before the episode, assumed as part of it and so described by him during the trial: [Damrosch from Nayler's testimony before Parliament:]
"Q. Why did you ride into Bristol in that manner?
A. There was never any thing since I was born so much against my will and mind as this thing, to be set up as a sign in my going into these towns; for I knew I should lay down my life for it.
Q. Whose will was it, if not yours?
A. It was the Lord's will, to give it into me to suffer such things to be done to me; and I durst not resist it, though I was sure to lay down my life for it.... I am set up as a sign to this nation, to bear witness of his coming."
(An accusatory letter from Fox dissociating himself from Nayler was also found in Nayler's pockets at the time of his arrest, and this letter was taken by Parliament to mean that Fox and other Quakers were not involved in the "horrid blasphemy" of which Nayler was eventually charged.)
Bauman's descriptions of what he calls "social dramas" involving Quakers and oath-taking might be understood as "realized" in strangely similar, extended terms. First, Bauman uses the term "social dramas" technically: they are framed, public, formalized, agonistic, and symbolic. In the "wave of show trials focusing on oaths," 1663-4, Quakers repeatedly asserted their loyalty to the state, offering signed statements to the substance of each oath, and stating their willingness to be prosecuted for perjury as if they had taken an oath. Yet each trial showcased the state's insistence on "a public display of submission to authority" in which nothing but the oath itself was acceptable. This series of Quaker leaders' court proceedings were transcribed by Quakers themselves and were framed by them in the agonistic terms of Truth against worldly power, submission to God rather than the state. These were "social dramas" which strangely served Quakers' own purposes, however much they also eventuated in the imprisonment of many and in confiscation of the property of some. The trials and any suffering entailed also made literal and public the choices that Quaker convincement required and enacted, and the state was "conscripted" into dramatizing this.
(Horle points out that the laws under which the Quakers were persecuted were unevenly implemented and widely resisted, not only by the Quakers themselves but by their neighbors and families, Churchmen, law enforcement authorities, ship masters and crews meant to "transport" them, and even the Crown. For example, neighbors bought up Quaker property and returned it to them when it was sold off under praemunire. King Charles' first Declaration of Indulgence in 1662, following the Quaker Act, released many from prison. Damrosch, with somewhat different emphasis, states that between 1660-1680 nearly two hundred and fifty Quakers died in prison and easily ten thousand were imprisoned for periods of time: "One result was that the first generation of leaders was largely wiped out." Fox, of the early leaders, was alive, despite multiple imprisonments, to create an organizational structure for Quakerism.)
Comparing the Incomparable: a tricky mapping problem among categories, presentisms, and pastpresents
Starting off a research project which eventually hopes to have something to say about that hybrid "thing"--the Scientific Revolution--with some despised members of a particular time period, thus switching those who count as major and those who count as minor characters, promises to make it possible to build in a range of genders (not just two, I hope you noticed), a range of writing technologies, a range of self-effacing acts, and a range of publics, while working from a particular place and time. But there are many different interests creating the pasts, the possible worlds, I am examining here.
Sociologist Steve Shapin begins his astonishing book of "historical ethnography," A Social History of Truth (1994), with a set of "Notes on Genres, Disciplines, and Conventions." He says there (somewhat defensively but very much to the point of my own interests): "...if my basic claims about the significance of the gentle in the formal culture of science is correct, then there need be no apologies for the fact that this is a book about a small group of powerful and vocal actors; that is, as the current sneer has it, about Dead White European Males. Given the nature of the cultural practice in question, if there are past voices--of women, of servants, of savages--in the practice to be attended to and made audible, then there is every reason why historians should, if they choose, concern themselves with them. However, if there are no such voices, or if they are almost inaudible, then the same sensibility should induce historians to attend to the local practices of inclusion and exclusion through which some speak and others are spoken for, some act and others are acted upon. These practices will, by definition, be those implemented and enforced by those who have put their mark upon the cultural form one proposes to interpret. Nor is there any reason to dismiss as 'politically incorrect' the possibility that the legitimacy of gentlemanly practices was locally conceded beyond the bounds of gentlemanly society. If that was so--and it is a matter for inquiry to determine--then historians can also, if they want, ask what that legitimacy consisted in and how far it extended. I draw attention to some evidence that gentlemanly conclusions, if not codes, were rejected by others, while I am provisionally satisfied that gentlemanly forms were quite widely regarded as legitimate outwith the bounds of gentlemanly recognitions."
I juxtapose to this statement another I find equally arresting although for a very different time and place: "With any form of work, there are always people whose work goes unnoticed or is not formally recognized (cleaners, janitors, maids, and often parents, for instance). Where the object of systems design is to support all work, leaving out what are locally perceived as "nonpeople" can mean a nonworking system. For example, with the biologists, I had originally wanted to include secretaries in the publication and communication stream, as they were so obviously (to me) part of the community communications. This was strongly resisted by both biologists and systems developers, as they did not see the secretaries as doing real science, and thus the idea was dropped. There is often a delicate balance of this sort between making things visible and leaving things tacit. With the nurses previously mentioned, whose work was categorizing all the tasks done by nurses, this was an important issue. Leave the work tacit, and it fades into the wallpaper (in one respondent's words, "we are thrown in with the price of the room"). Make it explicit, and it will become a target for hospital cost accounting. The job of the nursing classifiers was to balance someone in the middle, making their work just visible enough for legitimation, but maintaining an area of discretion. Without the fieldwork at their sessions where they were building the classification system, Bowker, Timmermans, and I (1995) would never have known about this conflict."
Sociologist Leigh Star in this "Ethnography of Infrastructure" is discussing what she and Geoff Bowker call "classification work." Looking for "nonpeople" outside the local classifications of the projects for which she is ethnographer--a biology/computer science partnership building a shared electronic laboratory and publishing space, and a group of nurses producing the Nursing Interventions Classification System (NIC)--requires another level of classification work itself. "We performed what Bowker has called an 'infra-structural inversion'—foregrounding the truly backstage elements of work practice."
This 17th c. "ecology of writing technologies" I am attempting to examine might be understood as a massive, large-scale infrastructure in dynamic motion, bits changing at differential rates across time, made up of layered sub-systems complexly interconnected and animated by distributed agencies, including people, skills, devices and social powers. For a similar conceptualization differently verbalized and situated see Robert Darnton's work on what he calls "Paris: The Early Internet." A work that describes in some detail for this specific time and place parts of this ecology of writing technologies is Adrian Johns' The Nature of the Book. My language of cybernetic systems is deliberately presentist, and the translation between this presentist meta-language and various local languages helps to rescale particular objects of study. Studying infrastructures requires one to think explicitly about scale and range, about the boundaries/connections between one system and another; thus, about what counts as a working (sub)system and the various essential forms of "blackboxing" necessary to describe and use these infrastructures. Some kinds of blackboxing that might matter in conversations about a 17th c. ecology of writing technologies include: strategic metonymic reduction or "reification" (the printing press), essentializing identities or ideas (so-called "enthusiasm"), naturalizing ranges of inclusion and exclusion (male members of the Royal Society), and working carefully within a particular disciplinary/interdisciplinary world view (stabilizing claims of evidence across microhistories).
Blackboxing different elements of an infrastructure is necessary in order to use or study it, entailed by what anthropologist Lucy Suchman calls its "artifactual richness." "...a kind of archaeological layering of artifacts acquired, in bits and pieces, over time." "...the coherence of artifacts is a contingent and ongoing achievement of practices of design-in-use, in ways and to an extent that is missing from professional talk about finished products." "Systems development is not the creation of discrete, intrinsically meaningful objects, but the cultural production of new forms of practice." Steve Shapin, Leigh Star, Lucy Suchman might be understood all to be in the ranging communities of practice one might lump together as "social studies of science and technology" or "science, technology and society," in two different "wings." The work that the term "witnessing" does is very different from the work Bauman intends the phrase "plain style" to do. The work that "witnessing" does is to rescale the infrastructures that "plain style" might move across: the "work of witnessing" asserts that rhetoric as a element of witnessing is not a thing, not even a performance, but already itself a complex set of infrastructural systems with animating practices and agencies.
Shapin and Schaffer, in Leviathan and the Air-Pump put it this way: "We have argued that three technologies were involved in the production and validation of matters of fact: material, literary, and social." Adrian Johns offers: "a printed book can be seen as a nexus conjoining a wide range of worlds of work." He, somewhat sarcastically and by his lights counterfactually, argues using the voice in which this labor is erased: "If it were really the result of a significant process of historical construction, then surely we could not now find it so obvious, universal, and undeniable. If it could have developed differently, then surely it would now differ noticeably from place to place, and in any one place it would still bear the traces of its development. We would see the wreckage of failed alternatives all about us...." Less sarcastically and explaining the work of what I (with Bowker and Star) am calling "blackboxing," he continues: "Questions of where it came from, who had made it, and whether or not its putative author acknowledged its content would all need to be posed and answered before we could safely trust any printed book. That they do not constitutes a powerful reason to accept the obvious."
It is not that blackboxing is bad, in fact, it is totally necessary; but it makes elegant some elements of the system/s differentially. Shapin in his "Notes on Genres" is justifying his system of blackboxing, especially its range, by appeal simultaneously to its complexity and elegance. Donna Haraway, wanting to appropriate the idea of the "modest witness" for her own feminist purposes, interrogates Shapin's elegant blackboxing: "the way he asked his questions about excluded categories precluded having much to say about the two questions that vex me: (1) In what ways in the experimental way of life was gender-in-the-making? (2) Did that matter or not, and how or how not, to what could count as reliable knowledge in science during and after the seventeenth century?"
Johns names his second chapter, "Literatory Life." For those who follow other wings of STS (Science, Technology and Society) studies this cannot but call to mind one of its founding texts, Bruno Latour and Steve Woolgar's Laboratory Life: The Social Construction of Scientific Facts (1979). As Johns describes it, literatory life moves through "domains": "dynamic localities defined by physical environment, work, and sociability. Discrete but interlocking, they both exhibited and were constituted by particular clusters of representations, practices, and skills. In them men and women (and children too) could labor to establish or contest issues of all kinds, including those relating to print and its products." Examples "include the printing house and bookshop, but also the city square, courtroom, and coffeehouse"; "the agents and abodes of the book trade." Johns thus juxtaposes "the literatory" with the laboratory in order to examine and arrange differently all three technologies for fact-making that Shapin and Schaffer name: material, literary, social.
"The literatory" includes the physical site as well as the processes contained or connected there: the printing house, "this strange hybrid of library, scriptorium, study, home, and workshop," Johns calls it. "Above the workshop itself, such a building would often house the master printer and his or her family, and not uncommonly the apprentices and journeymen too"; thus, the printing trade was held to a "domestic ideal." "Not only did women like Elizabeth Dunton and Elizabeth Calvert ...assist their husbands in ways demanding commercial initiative and skill. Others ran printing houses themselves. Most who did so were probably widows...but that was far from invariably the case, and there were women who learned the craft by apprenticeship. This exacerbated tensions already generated between representations of patriarchy, on the one hand, and on the other actual domains where the practical relations between the sexes were far less confined and straightforward."
A coffeehouse might well lie next door to a printing house, inviting "High Churchmen and nonconformists, gentlemen, retailers and mechanicks--and men and women, for the notion that coffeehouses excluded women is baseless...." "One can thus see the book trade as representative of a society conceiving of itself as an aggregate of patriarchal households, held together by fragile attributions of credit. Descriptions in such terms were commonplace...their articulation occurred partly because many bookshops were not in fact straightforwardly patriarchal. Women did substantial work in perhaps half of them, and ran about ten percent themselves."
"For at least the next century, it came standard to portray bookshops as 'Rendezvous of the most dangerous malcontents in Town.' Both Thomas Hobbes and Samuel Parker believed the Great Rebellion to have been 'chiefly hatched in the shops of tradesmen'....Particular booksellers could indeed use their stewardship of such heterogeneous spaces to further political ideals and interests. Behind the scenes and up the stairs, an interested London bookseller became a significant actor in cultural events. One example was notorious pirate Edmund Curll's 'Literatory'.... Others were more politically pointed. Nonconformists wanting to know about Penn's Quaker colony could get information at Benjamin Clarke's shop; radical writers in the Interregnum could count on a sympathetic reception at Giles Calvert's. Calvert is a particularly striking example, since he seems to have become something of a gatekeeper for radical groups...." "Curll's club provides a suitable title for this chapter, as it epitomizes the ambiguity of private social arrangements facilitated in the book trade."
The literatory is interesting to me for several reasons: it alters the boundaries of what counts as public and private in ways that Johns points out are shifting and perceived as dangerous at the time, it does not exclude women in the way the laboratory appears to--or, at least, we currently know how to make them more visible there, and it is essential to witnessing in at least its "virtual" forms. Further "The Royal Society... and the Quakers can be seen as exerting analogous efforts to discipline the culture of the book trade to their respective benefits." Indeed Johns claims that "the Quakers and the virtuosi in practice imitated" the disciplines of the Stationer's Company, especially its system of registries. "The Quakers ruled that only Friends be employed in making and binding their books; the Royal Society obtained its own printing privilege and appointed individual booksellers to oversee the press. In this way each could regularize dealings with the trade. The collective could tempt booksellers and printers into properly docile conduct by offering all its publishing work to one operator, and it could know whom to blame if things went wrong."
And what did both the Quakers and the Royal Society wish to discipline? Each in their own way was committed to disciplining (but not rejecting) "enthusiasm." Each was also concerned with a kind of credibility. The Royal Society's credibility was threatened by piracy, or at least that is Johns' preoccupation. The Quakers' credibility was threatened by proliferating "words, writing, signs." (Piracy may actually be one variation on this.) Each turned to what Quakers call "corporate discernment" for solutions. Of the Royal Society Johns says: "Since humans were intrinsically passionate, knowledge must be produced collectively. This was, of course, exemplified by the practice of the Royal Society. To a substantial degree, the Society's great virtue was that in creating a disciplined, polite, and above all collective judgment it went as far as humanly possible to eliminate passionate error. Its reading, writing, and printing practices were a core element in this scheme. [It was] Hooke's recommendation [that].... Experiments must be 'registered' as soon as they had been conducted, he insisted, in as much incidental detail as possible.... Throughout, everything must be expressed in as few words as possible, perhaps even in shorthand, so as to be 'the more obvious, and ...thereby the less disturb the Mind in its Inquiry.'"
Johns calls upon and answers to a need for "a nuanced account of [the Royal Society and its virtuosi's] communicative strategies....What it was that the virtuosi actually recorded in experimental descriptions, how they recorded it, through what channels they distributed it, and to which audiences, all require specification. ...A start has been made by Shapin and Schaffer, who have famously argued that Robert Boyle, in particular, developed a technique of what they call 'virtual witnessing.' That is, Boyle advocated recording incidental details with such minuteness that readers might submit to the illusion of having effectively witnessed an experiment themselves. Experimental replication could then become a matter of reading and believing, not of skilled dexterity.... An interesting facet of Boylean rhetoric was that it was literary... no pictorial representation of the Society in action seems to have been made. Boyle and others did produce detailed engravings of particular instruments, but scarcely ever of those instruments being used." Virtual witnessing realized an "enactment" in words.
What the Quakers put together was their own writing technology infrastructure. One name Quakers were known by was "Publishers of the Truth," and as literary historian Paula McDowell puts it: "Quaker commitment to the use of the press may be inferred from the fact that in 1659 and 1660 this illegal Nonconformist sect, despite comprising less than 1 percent of the population, published about 10 percent of all the [extant] titles printed in England." Paula McDowell continues: "It is a paradox of early Quakerism that the Friends' modes of publication were at once innovatively underground and blatantly open." Quaker historian William Braithwaite quotes from a letter to George Fox in 1660 that copies of one pamphlet were "given abroad in Whitehall, and others of them is sold in divers shops, and some of the women cries them about the streets." Illegal presses were subject to government and craft prosecution, and William Penn talks about the problems of his friend Andrew Sowle, that his printing house was "often searched, and his materials, as presses, letter, &c. as often broke to pieces, and taken away, as any Friends' books were found printing by him." For these kinds of reasons Sowle's name doesn't appear on his printed materials before 1680, until after the lapse of the 1662 Licensing Act in 1679.
All this historical material has been gathered by Paula McDowell in her study of Andrew Sowle's daughter, Tace Sowle, who ran this printing establishment for 58 years, during which time she published nearly 600 items. Her sister, Elizabeth, married a printing apprentice and immigrated with him to Pennsylvania, where she and her husband become the first colonial American Quaker printers. Tace Sowle was her father's apprentice when he was master printer (indeed he had been apprenticed himself to a woman printer, Ruth Raworth), and she became the master printer of the shop after his death, as an independent artisan, until her marriage. After her marriage the shop operated under her mother's name, J. Sowle, as widow owner of the family business, while her daughter Tace continued to head the shop, her husband assisting her. It was from the Sowle shop that virtually all Quaker writings were published: by the time his daughter "succeeded to her father's business in 1691, Andrew Sowle had established a virtual monopoly over Quaker printing...."
Also from 1691 on Quaker writings were distributed in mandated numbers of copies to all Friends meetings (meetings were required to subscribe to all materials published), meetings both in England and in continental Europe and the colonies. It is because this distribution system was so effective in generating and preserving these materials that today we have far more writings by Quaker women than by any other group of women of the period. "Quaker women produced twice as many printed editions as any other female group."
Histories, such as Mack's, embed the piece of this that is conventionally understood as publication, within the Quaker organizational structure now claimed as an example of Weberian "routinization of charisma." (You might notice that I am setting the stage for an "infra-structural inversion" here.) The "Nayler episode" is often offered as the extravagant moment of excess in enthusiastic prophecy that demonstrates that "enthusiasm" always leads to containment. Both in this vein, and a bit against it too, Mack tells a story of Robert Barclay. (Quakers have had few theologians, as they have tended more to rather literal "Advices and Queries" than rationalized systematic intellectualizations, but Barclay would count as one and the most famous, whose work naturally was published by the Sowle Press.) Convinced in 1666, "[i]n 1672, after praying with tears that he might be excused from such an action, Barclay walked through the main streets of Aberdeen in sackcloth and ashes." Barclay is associated with what some have called "the second period of Quakerism" and with the proclamation of "the affinity of reason and revelation," a dependence on both "rationality and mystical insight."
As she has focused on the loss of control in enthusiasm, connecting its excesses and femininities in the earliest Quakerisms, Mack sees the second period of Quakerism as characterized by controlling structures of organization and of censorship, inhibiting women's prophetic agencies of preaching in particular. Lack of discipline becomes discipline. (I have already hinted that I am a bit skeptical of this line of reasoning, wondering instead about forms of discipline that appear "undisciplined" or out of control.) Mack says, "...Quakers sensitized by the prophetic excesses of individuals like James Nayler, Martha Simmonds, or John Perrot had a distinctly narrower view of which individuals were entitled to present themselves as ministering Friends. The project of restricting the Quakers' public activity to these worthy individuals was one of the chief preoccupations of the new system of rules and meetings instituted by the leaders in 1667."
Feminist historians attempting to complicate the earliest periods of Quakerism in order to highlight their unusual range of agencies for women, stress the fluid constituencies among nonconformist groups, the permeable boundaries between them, and loose, nonhierarchical, even incoherent blendings among leadership and constituency. It is during this "second period" of Quakerism they see established the forms of (male) authority that "George Fox" figures, as nominal agency, actual person, and principle architect. They challenge "George Fox" as the blackbox for the origins of Quakerism, a blackbox that lumps timescales especially. (I am myself interested in some elements of this line of reasoning more than others, while at the same time I want to show it elegant, explicit, interested and interconnected.) Mack succinctly outlines this 1667 "complex organizational system" as a "system of local monthly meetings, regional or country quarterly meetings, and larger general meetings, each divided into meetings for men and women; a yearly meeting for ministers, a meeting for sufferings, and a morning meeting, dealing with publication of Quaker works, were also eventually established [starting in 1672]." (The status, meaning and use of the women's meetings is a contested concern among feminists: some see them as the epitome of this containment of female agency while others see them as its new vehicle. Mack gives support to both possibilities in her chapter "The Snake in the Garden: Quaker Politics and the Origin of the Women's Meeting.")
Paula McDowell describes the work of the meetings associated with publication: "The three bodies of central organization that controlled the Quaker press were the Yearly Meeting, the Morning Meeting [also called "the Second Day Morning Meeting" or "the Monday Morning Meeting"], and the Meeting for Sufferings.... On the second day of the [Yearly Meeting] a committee of ten Friends met to review the year's distribution of books, and later in the day the proposals of these Friends were reviewed by the group. At the first Yearly Meeting in 1672, the committee of ten established a set of policies that was to stand throughout the eighteenth century. One such policy specified that no books or editions were to be produced without their approval. The committee was to decide the number of books that were to be sent to each county and to whom they were to be sent. A printer was to send books abroad only when he or she was instructed to do so, and in the quantities ordered." "At the first Yearly Meeting in 1672 a general stock was created to cover the expenses of publishing...Tace Sowle would be advanced sums up to £300." (An amazing advantage for a printer-publisher.)
"The official board overseeing the censorship of Quaker publication was the Morning Meeting, which gathered weekly in London starting in September 1673 and included about a dozen 'antient men Friends.' Because its primary task was to approve manuscripts before they were printed, the Morning Meeting spent most of its time reading books aloud, debating them line by line with meticulous care, and deciding which specific passages were to be altered or omitted.... Books not passed for printing immediately were either sent back to the author with detailed suggestions of revision or rejected outright as untimely, unsuitable, or too dangerous. Even books to be reprinted had to be reedited, for the political climate of Restoration England (and hence the conditions of publication) shifted from decade to decade. [This included Fox' Journal, and I am under the impression that it was through this meeting's work that his miracles were edited out.] Orders to print or reprint had to be recorded in the minute book of the meeting by the official secretary. Approved books were then passed on to the Meeting for Sufferings, which met weekly in London beginning in 1675 and coordinated the details of production and distribution."
(McDowell refers to the minutes of the Morning Meeting very coherently. I am not sure what sort of "register" she is referring to and if those minutes are the same or different from the ones I have examined in microfilm among the Swarthmore manuscripts from Friends House. McDowell has worked with the materials directly and I have not. Still, the materials I have examined do not look to me like what Friends call "minutes," a very local, technical term, which refer to highly distilled, totally compact, carefully intentioned, very few, sentences. I would have connected such "minutes" to the brief form of registry Johns describes. But what I have seen are not as intentioned and distilled as I imagined "minutes" to be; instead what I have seen are more like informal notes from discussion; lots of stuff is crossed out, for example, but does not appear redrafted. These are mostly lists of various kinds. In fact, they are very difficult to decipher at all. Perhaps McDowell is just more skilled at understanding them than I am yet.)
Johns describes the Royal Society's communication system in which "[w]hat had to be communicated was not just a simple fact itself, but the entire adjudicatory and legitimating framework in which it had come into existence." Rather than seeing the Quaker organizational structure as a controlling one of which one piece was its publication process, I would reorder its infrastructural systems to prioritize processes through which realized enactments were to be performed: analogous to witnessing and virtual witnessing, taken from Shapin and used at another meta-level. Here I take virtual witnessing as a "realized" enactment in words, performed within several levels of collectivity--from the experimental (experiential, literally "realized") moment and its enactment; to its witness by the Society (the Royal Society--or alternatively the Society of Friends) in collective discernment (Johns claims this is as important as the "gentle" aspect that Shapin's elegant blackboxing range of inclusion and legitimation produces and which preoccupies many); to the "conversation" it produces, that is to say, the way one enactment leads to another; to the witnessing extended in range by virtual witnessing, which finally includes (structurally) communication of the adjudicatory framework. For Friends this last would rescale Quaker organizational structure itself. Barclay's naked enactment took place in 1672, as did that first adjudicatory Yearly Meeting and the morning meetings, in which enactment, witnessing, collective discernment, conversation leading to virtual witnessing, all took place; and the meetings realized both their literal event itself and worked as the figure of the same literal processes taking place all up and down Quaker organizational structure.
Bowker and Star say in their book Sorting Things Out: "We seek to understand classification systems according to the work that they are doing and the networks within which they are embedded....When we ask historical questions about the deeply and heterogeneously structured space of classification systems and standards, we are dealing with a four-dimensional archaeology. The systems move in space, time, and process. Some of the archaeological structures we uncover are stable, some in motion, some evolving, some decaying. They are not consistent...." They remind us and themselves: "There is no way of ever getting access to the past except through classification systems of one sort or another...." And they offer: "In the best of all possible worlds, at any given moment, the past could be reordered to better reflect multiple constituencies now and then."
Demonstrations and Experiments with "Epistemological Decorum"
Shapin's term "Epistemological Decorum," is a wonderful bit of meta-language, an example of what I call pastpresents in analogy with Donna Haraway's coinage naturecultures. (Pastpresents decline epistemologically charged purifications that devout complaints of "presentism" mandate.) Shapin references "Epistemological Decorum" in order to examine 17th c. "truth-making practices in action," practices that "rendered a range of existing systems dubious, in whole or in part." What was at stake was "epistemic virtue."
("Virtuosi" is one way members of the Royal Society, and others of those who pursued special investigations in arts and what we call sciences, are named. The OED quotes "1656 BLOUNT Glossogr., Virtuoso, ...a learned or ingenious person, or one that is well qualified." The word "virtuous" might also mean "Belonging to the virtuosi"; perhaps admitted "into severall clubbs of the virtuous." Robert Boyle uses the term in his title The Christian Virtuoso: Shewing That by Being Addicted to Experimental Philosophy, a Man Is Rather Assisted Than Indisposed to Be a Good Christian. 1690.)
Disciplines and interdisciplines also have different "epistemic virtues" or powers. When trying to suggest for graduate students the different possible worlds disciplinary formations examine or police (one of Shapin's section titles is "Policing Possible Worlds") I often use as an example the fascinatingly divergent pictures one gets of Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, on the one hand, from U.S. feminist historian of science Londa Schiebinger in The Mind Has No Sex? Women in the origins of modern science (1989) and, on the other, from Australian feminist poet and literary scholar Kate Lilley's Introduction (1992) to Cavendish's The Blazing World (newly reprinted after 325 odd years, although now detached from its 1666 co-publication with Cavendish's Observations upon Experimental Philosophy).
The disequilibriating brilliance of Schiebinger's book lies in her continual insistence that exclusions of women from the new science are difficult to explain: "The exclusion of women from the Royal Society of London is also difficult to explain but for different reasons [than those for the exclusion of women from Académie Royale des Sciences, the French Academy]. At least ideologically, the Royal Society was supposed to be open to a wide range of people....In addition, no special study or extraordinary preparations of learning were required....In fact the Royal Society never made good its claim to welcome men of all classes. Merchants and tradesmen comprised only 4 percent of the society's membership; the vast majority of the members (at least 50 percent in the 1660s) came from the ranks of gentlemen virtuosi, or wellborn connoisseurs of the new science. Considering that the society relied on its monies on dues paid by members, the absence of noblewomen from the ranks of enthusiastic patrons is puzzling. / One woman in particular--Margaret Cavendish, duchess of Newcastle--was a qualified candidate, having written some six books about natural philosophy, along with several other plays and books of poetry. She had long been a generous patron of Cambridge University and would have been a financial asset to the impoverished society.... When the duchess asked for nothing more than to be allowed to visit a working session of the society, however, her request aroused a flood of controversy. Although never invited to join the Royal Society, Cavendish was allowed to attend one session after some discussion among society fellows. The famous visit took place in 1667. Robert Boyle prepared his 'experiments of...weighing of air in an exhausted receiver; [and]... dissolving of flesh with a certain liquor.' The duchess, accompanied by her ladies, was much impressed by the demonstrations and left (according to one observer) 'full of admiration.' / Although no official record of the discussion of Cavendish's visit remains, Samuel Pepys tells us that there was 'much debate, pro and con, it seems many being against it, and we do believe the town will be full of ballads of it.' When no other ballads appeared, Royal Society member John Evelyn was moved to write one of his own. From Pepys's report it seems many fellows felt that Cavendish's membership would bring ridicule rather than honor...."
Schiebinger further draws out: "Science became fashionable in the middle decades of the seventeenth century....Especially in Paris, wealthy women were ready consumers of scientific curiosities.... During this period popular science written for the ladies became a major industry. One of the earliest popularizations of science written expressly for women--in this case, in the form of science fiction--came from Margaret Cavendish, duchess of Newcastle. Her Description of a New World, called the Blazing World, addressed 'To all Noble and Worthy Ladies,' offered an introduction to her own brand of natural philosophy under the guise of a romance.... Science for ladies remained popular throughout Europe in the eighteenth century.... Why were women considered an audience worthy of cultivation? / For one thing, enthusiasm among the wellborn facilitated the rapid diffusion and acceptance of the new science. At the same time, studying science was not thought to threaten the traditional virtues of a lady....the cardinal virtues of ladies--modesty and religious reverence--were thought to be promoted by the study of natural philosophy. Furthermore, science at this time was by and large a leisure activity, and for that reason was seen as an appropriate pastime for gentlemen and women....Though often addressed to women, Cavendish's natural philosophy was not written as a simplification...for the 'weaker sex.' Rather she participated in discussions central to her life and times...."
Then Schiebinger offers a summary of Cavendish's views: "Cavendish judged a philosophy based on the human senses unreliable.... The new telescopes and microscopes she found even more unreliable with glass often cracked, concave or convex they distorted the figure, presenting a 'hermaphroditical' view of things--partly artificial, partly natural.... More important, these impure images go no further than reason in providing true knowledge....Cavendish also criticized experimental philosophy for being impractical...." Schiebinger extracts from one of Cavendish's essays, her "Femal Oration" (1662), composed of five voices, this judgment: "...Above all, this fourth speaker warns women against become 'hermaphroditical,' corrupt and imperfect. The hermaphrodite--the 'womanish man' or 'manly woman'--provoked uneasy feelings in the Europe of her day, and Cavendish used the term degradingly to refer to anything of a mixed nature--as, for example, impure alloys of tin or brass. If metals were to be censured for ambiguous identity...how much more serious was the charge of ambiguous sexual identity."
My students and I compare this view of Cavendish with Lilley's: "Margaret Cavendish was devoted to personal excess, and the number of substantial, elaborately produced books she wrote and published under her own name and at considerable expense, in a career spanning twenty years, constituted her most radical and deliberate infringement of contemporary proprieties. But Cavendish's writing is not only copious and unusually secular, it is also overtly polemical and formally experimental. Her writings, collectively and individually, demonstrate an abiding fascination with kinds as such, and particularly with impure and unexpected hybrids. An interrogation of systems of knowledge and modes of description, as well as the fluid relations between gender and genre, informs all of Cavendish's writing, and marks it as generically self-conscious and ambitious....her imagination is not primarily focused on normative or pure kinds. It is most engaged by that which troubles or resists categorization, thereby engendering reflection on the nature and function of categorization itself. Both Cavendish herself, and her writings, have similarly challenged categorization....Cavendish self-consciously produced herself as a fantastic and singular woman, and that labour of self-representation successfully dominated seventeenth-century and later accounts of both her life and writing. Pepys's often-quoted remark, 'The whole story of this Lady is a romance, and all she doth is romantic', was a shrewd reading of a woman who represented herself as figuratively hermaphrodite. Her idiosyncratic dress combined masculine and feminine elements in a parodic masquerade of gender, while her rare and highly theatrical public appearances never failed to draw an audience." Lilley concludes: "The Blazing World is already improbably and hermaphroditically coupled with a serious treatise on natural philosophy...in both its printings of 1666 and 1668. In Observations [upon Experimental Philosophy ]Cavendish asserts that 'Art produces hermaphroditical effects, that is, such as are partly natural and partly artificial....'"
(In The Blazing World, the author Cavendish creates a character also named as and complexly referring to Cavendish herself. This "scribe" enters into a relationship of Platonic Love with the principle female protagonist of the story. In her first chapter to The Renaissance of Lesbianism in Early Modern England, Valerie Traub describes how stories about sexual metamorphosis in the sixteenth century become attributions of hermaphroditism in the seventeenth. "Early moderns tended to view sex, gender, and eroticism always in terms of one another....The difference between being judged a hermaphrodite or a tribade, then, was as crucial as it was uncertain. A further contribution to the confusion was the status of clothing as a signifier of identity. Discourses about hermaphrodites, tribades, female sodomites, and spontaneous transsexuals were also discourses about crossdressing. During this period of unprecedented geographical exploration, warfare, and colonization, many women took advantage of the rise in social status that a change in clothing could bring about....Although English sumptuary legislation regulated status boundaries rather than gender, and it is probably the case that very few women actually crossdressed, the anxiety that crossdressing would become a viable fashion was still evident....")
It was Bauman who I first found linking Quakers and the new science across "plain style." It was Donna Haraway who introduced me to the idea that "naked writing" was a proper reference point for feminist examinations of objectivity and its relationship to a science founded in exclusion of women, as made visible in the work of Shapin and Schaffer. "...those actually physically present at a demonstration could never be as numerous as those virtually present by means of the presentation of the demonstration through the literary device of the written report. Thus, the rhetoric of the modest witness, the 'naked way of writing,' unadorned, factual, compelling, was crafted. Only through such naked writing could the facts shine through, unclouded by the flourishes of any human author." Haraway referred to then unpublished work by feminist philosopher of science Elizabeth Potter who was attempting to demonstrate what Potter eventually called "the influence of gender considerations on the technical content of the physical sciences." Haraway took up Potter's work as well as Shapin and Schaffer's in order to elaborate the idea of the "modest witness," in which "modesty" might flip between either of two sides: one which has historically masked a masculine solipsism as a speciously unmarked category, the other which could work across partialities to create "a more adequate, self-critical technoscience committed to situated knowledges."
Haraway looked to Potter to establish that: "Gender was at stake in the experimental way of life...not predetermined. To develop this suspicion, [Potter] turns to the early-seventeenth-century English debates on the proliferation of genders in the practice of sexual cross-dressing. In the context of anxieties over gender manifested by early modern writers, she asks how Robert Boyle--urbane, celibate, and civil--avoided the fate of being labeled a haec vir, a feminine man, in his insistence on the virtue of modesty?" Quoting from the text of one of Potter's drafts--"'The new man of science had to be a chaste, modest, heterosexual man who desires yet eschews a sexually dangerous yet chaste and modest woman'"--Haraway continues her understanding of Potter's line of reasoning, mixing it with her own: "Female modesty was of the body; the new masculine virtue had to be of the mind....Boyle pursued his discourse on modesty in the context of the vexed hic mulier/haec vir (masculine woman/feminine man) controversies of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. In that anxious discourse, when gender characteristics were transferred from one sex to another, writers worried that third and fourth sexual kinds were created, proliferating outside all bounds of God and Nature. Boyle could not risk his modest witness's being a haec vir. God forbid that the experimental way of life have queer foundations." Haraway goes on: "I am using the story of Boyle and the experimental way of life as a figure for technoscience; the story stands for more than itself....The important practice of credible witnessing is still at stake."
Haraway explains why credible witnessing is still at stake in this line of historical re-representation: "This is the culture within which contingent facts--the real case about the world--can be established with all the authority, but none of the considerable problems, of transcendental truth. This self-invisibility is the specifically modern, European, masculine, scientific form of the virtue of modesty. This is the form of modesty that pays off its practitioners in the coin of epistemological and social power. This kind of modesty is one of the founding virtues of what we call modernity. This is the virtue that guarantees that the modest witness is the legitimate and authorized ventriloquist for the object world, adding nothing from his mere opinions, from his biasing embodiment. And so he is endowed with the remarkable power to establish the facts. He bears witness: he is objective; he guarantees the clarity and purity of objects, as contestable representations, or as constructed documents in their potent capacity to define the facts....I would like to queer the elaborately constructed and defended confidence of this civic man of reason in order to enable a more corporeal, inflected, and optically dense, if less elegant, kind of modest witness to matters of fact to emerge in the worlds of technoscience."
In Potter's final version of her analysis, the particular re-representation that led to Haraway's literal and figurative queering of categories is demoted. Instead, in Gender and Boyle's Law of Gases, Potter heroically refines complex sets whose retrospective density blackboxes into male vs. female oppositions: (from the Table of Contents): "The Intersection of Gender and Science: Now we see it, Now we don't. Economics, Politics, and Religion: Stuart Conflicts with Parliament. Civil War Approaches. The Intersection of Class and Gender Politics. The Boyle Family's Religious and Class Politics. More Class and Gender Politics. Boyle's Background Reading. Boyle's Hermeticism, Magic, and Active Principles. Hermeticism, Hylozoism, and Radical Politics. Boyle's Concern over the Sectaries. Boyle's Objections to Hylozoism. Experimental Support for the Corpuscular Philosophy. Boyle's Law of Gases. The Production of an Alternative Law. Methodological Considerations. "The Data Alone Proved Boyle's Hypothesis." Good Science." Enthusiasm, sectaries, hylozoism, radical politics, despised gender instabilities, middling sort = female with risks of womanish men and manly women; while rationality, conformity, mechanism, royalist, newly normative gender stabilities, aristocratic = male creating manly men and womanly women. At every point at which the materials and Potter's own interests and studies actually complicate or even destabilize these strong associations, the weight of normative power relations consolidates or blackboxes them: in the argument, and in the possible world Potter struggles to reference. When Potter does refer briefly to the hic mulier/haec vir controversies she prioritizes the issues thus: "but superficial questions about whether women or men could adopt one another's clothes and social roles express a deeper anxiety over the mutability of gender and the question of whether it is, after all, a natural category." Potter uses Boyle to figure normative heterosexual masculinity in consolidation rather than at risk, blackboxed and scaled at the level of social powers rather than scaled at the level of everyday practices.
Shapin similarly uses Boyle as a newly valorized consolidation of the "gentle." Although he names reasons why Boyle's gentle identity might not have been something to take for granted--especially the assumption of "independence" to which he gives such epistemological weight--in order to establish the normative power of the gentle, Shapin accentuates its range rather than its deviations. He accounts, without emphasizing them as these fragile, tender elements of Boyle's gentle and/or independent identity: his father's parvenu, Irish colonial status--while one of the richest aristocrats in England yet new made from yeoman origins; Boyle's disabilities--his chronic health problems, speech impediment and near blindness, such that from his twenties he relied on an amanuensis to write; his dependent position as youngest son of sixteen children and family pet, for whom early on any independent income was intended to come from marriage (arranged at age fifteen but not realized), then threatened by Irish Rebellion and Civil War, but finally insured by the incredible resources of his father's recovered estate; in his twenties he lived on his own estate at Stalbridge, in his thirties he lived in Oxford where he was most involved with the Royal Society (he was thirty three when the Royal Society was formed), and in his forties and for the rest of his life he lived as a member of the household of his older sister in London, where he worked out of a large room piled with papers and instruments and in the laboratory out in the garden, and where in 1670 he had a serious stroke; he "publicly advertised his chastity" and may have died a virgin; he was religiously scrupulous and preoccupied with a nameless sin about which, without describing, he sought counsel from religious advisors.
Boyle was a very worried man. Not only did he worry about his health constantly but he was also continually anxious that his work had been or would be literally stolen from his premises as well as plagiarized or not acknowledged as his intellectual property, or conversely, that he would be accused of plagiarism himself. He worked anxiously to present his work ably and clearly, despite the "impropriety associated with publication," proliferating and hybridizing his authorial identities and experimenting with publishing conventions in order to present the subjects he actively engaged in ranges of genres--"letters, dialogues, reports, descriptions, sermons, meditations and oratory" (early on he wrote religious romances as well). He made himself a character in his writing, and produced elaborate meta-discourses justifying it, excusing it, apologizing for it, explaining it. Perhaps he was actually obsessive-compulsive or peculiarly self-rationalizing: "...there is a slightly strange quality about Boyle's apologetic prefaces of which readers should be aware....To understand Boyle's works we have to do justice to this tension between dedication and prevarication which characterised him throughout his life."
My details here are drawn not only from Shapin, but also from the group of historians of science, philosophers and a literary scholar (who also works in academic computing, something I would notice) including and associated with historian Michael Hunter, the principle editor of the 1999/2000 edition of Boyle's Works, the 2001 edition of Boyle's Correspondence, the 1994 edited collection, Boyle Reconsidered, and the 2000 book, Robert Boyle, 1627-1691: Scrupulosity and Science; not to mention editor of the University of London's Robert Boyle Project, Including the Robert Boyle Work-Diaries Online.
Extending and elevating Boyle's worried concerns, Hunter accounts: "It is in the 1650s that we first encounter evidence of Boyle's unusual interest in casuistry, in other words, the repeated and careful examination of a believer's conscience to assess the morality of decisions made and acts carried out....The influence of casuistry arguably extended beyond Boyle's religious life to his intellectual method as a whole, and not least his experimental philosophy. In his writings on such subjects from the 1650s onwards, it is striking how frequently Boyle uses the language of casuistry, his treatises describing his experimental trials being full of references to his 'scruples' and to the 'cases' which preoccupied him.... Indeed, it might be argued that the characteristic method that Boyle deployed from the 1650s onwards had its roots in casuistry, as if he was transferring to the laboratory techniques developed to examine his conscience, which involved repeatedly going back over an issue until he was satisfied."
Hunter and others, in their own reconstruction of Boyle, have four layers of previous "presentisms" to work with and upon: the 18th c. descriptions of and editorial work on Boyle, demonstrating the "ideal type" of experimentalism and mechanism, produced by his proteges, especially Thomas Birch; the post World War II academic professionalization of Boyle studies and the work of Marie Boas, despite his bad fit with a "heroic view of the Scientific Revolution"; the 1970s "scholarly tradition" which "sought to contextualize science in terms of social, economic and cultural change in its period," including the work of J.R. and M.C. Jacob on the "dialogue with the sectaries"; and the work in the 1990's of Shapin and Schaffer on the status of knowledge claims, and "the self-consciously ideological role of science in the Restoration period...."
Hunter is especially concerned to critique historical details that form the ground of "contextualist" explanations, within which he understands Shapin and Schaffer to be included, although in a two decade later variation. Hunter draws attention to the forms of censorship carried out in the eighteenth century as the figure of Boyle is crafted as the metonymic reduction for both mechanism and experimentalism. Boyle's correspondence on alchemy, or with Quakers, for example (especially Benjamin Furly, remember him?), is discarded as "enthusiastic" or "trivial": "there is thus reason to believe that at least some of the losses may have been associated with Miles himself [Henry Miles, who worked with Birch on including correspondence in Boyle's Works]. Miles' comments on certain of the missing letters clearly reflect the fact that the letters seemed to him trivial. On the other hand, in other cases a slightly more sinister motivation is in evidence. We know that these early eighteenth-century admirers of Boyle were concerned about his reputation, and particularly the extent to which his alchemical concerns made him look credulous to an Enlightenment audience, and it seems likely that at least some of these losses were due to conscious censorship on their part...This section [Appendix 3 in Vol. 6] therefore documents a rather tantalizing aspect of the correspondence, all the more so since the letters that fall into this category illustrate Boyle's links with such significant figures as the Quaker, Benjamin Furly, no letters between whom and Boyle now survive at all.... By including such information as is available at the appropriate point about these letters which have succumbed to the depredations of time and censorship, we hope we have provided a more balanced view of Boyle's correspondence than would otherwise be the case."
In recounting Boyle's "scrupulosity" Hunter also notes that "Perhaps the most striking instance of this--if not the easiest to interpret--is Boyle's refusal to become President of the Royal Society in 1680...Boyle gave as the reason for his refusal of the honor his 'great (and perhaps peculiar) tenderness in point of oaths', language strongly reminiscent of the casuistical material already surveyed....The most notorious of such refusers of oaths were the Quakers, who took the view that men should be of such integrity that their affirmations should be dependable without the need for additional sanctions of this kind. Such a position was widely regarded at the time as seditious....Boyle's views seem to have had something in common with those of the Quakers...[but] [u]nlike the Quakers, Boyle did not wholly reject oath-taking; indeed, in his Discourse, he had specifically distanced himself from those 'that indiscriminately condemn all Oaths as absolutely and indispensibly prohibited and abollished by the Gospel'. But he does seems to have felt abnormal scruples about taking oaths which were not strictly necessary, or which he had any reason to think that he might not be able to fulfil....by 1680 the President of the Royal Society had to take the oaths prescribed by the Test Act of 1673 (at least, if it had not hitherto been clear that this applied to the President of the Royal Society, this was something that Boyle clarified by consulting no fewer than three lawyers, all of whom assured him that the act did affect him....)"
Hunter is hostile to the theory of Boyle's "dialogue with the sectaries" for which the Jacobs are famous, and he labors to provide counter evidence both from the content of Boyle's writings and at the level of everyday practice in correspondence: "In fact, in his reaction against the threat of excessive rationalism, Boyle was arguably quite receptive to certain ideas associated with 'enthusiasts', and tolerant of those who held them. Indeed, apart from its lack of documentary basis, a further difficulty about Jacob's view of sectarianism is that it conflates together religious positions which it is more helpful to keep separate--in particular, he confuses the issue of whether the principal threat derived from excessive rationalism, or from claimed divine inspiration. Both could be subsumed under a broad 'sectarian' label, but they were positions towards which (as we have seen) Boyle had a quite different attitude, in that he excoriated the rationalism of the Socinians, while displaying a marked sympathy for the mysticism of the Helmontians and others. / Indeed, Boyle seems to have been happy to be associated with men whom some of his contemporaries shunned as 'enthusiasts'....The same is equally true later in Boyle's life. Thus, though eighteenth-century censorship almost succeeded in suppressing this fact by destroying the letters in question, we know that Boyle corresponded in the 1670s and 1680s with various Quakers and other figures, and these letters include ones variously described in an eighteenth-century inventory as 'Enthusiastic', 'unintelligible' and 'in the Same Mystic Strain'....Throughout his life, Boyle remained eclectic in such matters, evidently because, so far from his philosophy being predicated on disagreement with 'enthusiasts', in fact he found he had something in common with them, since an appeal to the promptings of the spirit was more compatible with his religious outlook than was that of those who overstressed reason."
Shapin describes Boyle as a member of a "class" of those whose truth-telling was privileged--"In certain sorts of people credibility was embodied"--without claiming that Boyle individually becomes over time an embodiment of credibility. (Hunter clearly means to refute this possibility in his contention that a "tension between dedication and prevarication" "characterised [Boyle] throughout his life.") A different class of people, coming conspicuously over time to embody truth-telling are the Quakers, who by 1696 with the passage of the Affirmation Act, are officially permitted to tell truths by affirmation rather than by oaths.
Potter's book is completely grounded in the work of the Jacobs and in the "dialogue with the sectaries" thesis. Hunter's point against the Jacobs is critical with respect to Potter's arguments: "In particular, the 'dialogue' that Jacob claimed to discern between Boyle as spokesman for an orthodox mechanistic worldview and a rival position [Potter uses the term 'hylozoism' to name it, a term I could not find indexed in Hunter's versions of either Boyle's Works or Correspondence] which combined vitalism with politically subversive ideas is based on a mistaken presumption that natural philosophical positions were more clearly polarized than was actually the case; it also postulates a precise focus for the notions which Boyle attacked which is not warranted by the evidence."
Academic generations or scholarly projects are sometimes distinguished by first generation "lumping" practices that are used to create and justify new hybrid subjects (comparing the incomparable) followed by second generation "splitting" practices, that being able to take such justifications for granted, can then wholly engage within these hybrid subjects to examine and explain their complexities. Such lumping and splitting practices are separated in time but still mutually reinforcing. These are variations on what Bruno Latour calls hybridization (or translation) and purification, and the moral enthusiasms of each (the first for something invisible now made visible, the second for the errors of fact now made clear) ensure that although they are actually mutually interconnected, that these generational moralisms and time frames keep their practices separated. Any individual scholar or any scholarly community of practice is likely to practice both lumping and splitting with different objects of importance, and in today's academy may very well justify each against the other through charges of "presentism."
Charges of presentism are happily presentist, since few times or places other than today's academy have ever cared about them. Latour provokes and teases: "No one has ever been modern. Modernity has never begun..."; and urges instead another kind of retrospection: "This retrospective attitude, which deploys instead of unveiling, adds instead of subtracting, fraternizes instead of denouncing, sorts out instead of debunking, I characterize as nonmodern or amodern."
Potter tells us: "Women were not among those qualified to make knowledge by witnessing experiments and attesting their validity." She footnotes this point: "This is so despite [Boyle's] occasionally mentioning women as sources of information on topics of concern to him. Recently, Rose-Mary Sargent has argued against Shapin and Schaffer that Boyle's use of information given him by women means that women were considered credible witnesses of scientific work.... I believe that there are two senses of the word 'witness' operating here. Shapin and Schaffer took the word up from Boyle as a technical term meaning someone who provides authoritative corroboration that an experimental matter of fact is as claimed.... Sargent employs the term in a looser sense to mean, roughly, someone who provides testimony that such and such a thing happened. In none of the cases cited by Sargent can we say that the women are considered virtuosae in the way that, for example, Dr. Wallis is a virtuoso. Unfortunately, they are not the new women of science."
Rose-Mary Sargent is one of the group "reconsidering" Boyle in Hunter's edited collection. Potter's footnote and a bit from Hunter's index could be understood as "dialoging" : [from index Vol.14: 588 under]:
entertained by demonstrations 2.53; 11.395
have begun to read chemistry 3.484
participate in experiment 4.360
report from virtuosa 7.235
virtuosa shows Boyle an experiment 8.519
witness experiments 1.286-7; 4.75; 9.291, 314-15
a woman's word just a moral probability 8.287
blush at unchaste things 3.443
die for chastity 8.46"
The first example under "witness experiments" is the only one Potter explores in detail, in order to show that women cannot be witnesses. (It is the most substantial of the various choices in the index.) It describes, as Potter puts it, "a series of experiments designed to discover the relationship between the very low pressure created in the air-pump and respiration"; briefly paraphrasing himself in this bit Potter examines, Boyle puts it as "the experiment of killing birds in a small receiver" (although no birds are killed in this particular set of demonstrations). Boyle says (in Potter's modernization): "Which sort of experiments seem so strange, that we were obliged to make it several times, which gained it the advantage of having persons of differing qualities, professions and sexes (not only ladies and lords, but doctors and mathematicians) to witness it." This is the kind of thing Potter explains as the loose use of the term witness. This appears to be the emic (local) use, rather than the etic (meta, technical, analytic) use by Shapin and Schaffer. At one point Boyle, describing the attempt to study the effects of being in a totally enclosed receiver on several birds, says one was "rescued" by "a great person, that was a spectator of some of these experiments" [perhaps his Lordship?] and that, because of "the pity of some fair ladies, related to your Lordship, who made me hastily let in some air at the stop-cock..." another was too. After mentioning "the ladies compassion" Boyle goes on to say: "And another time also, being resolved not to be interrupted in our experiment, we did at night shut up a bird in one of our small receivers" observing that the bird appeared to sleep and then woke up sick, and that, then appearing to be about to die, the bird was released from the receiver.
Potter says "Boyle makes it obvious why women merely watch. The women who enter his laboratory are unfit for serious witnessing or experimenting; in fact, their presence turns out to disrupt the experiment altogether. / The danger of sexual distraction and disruption that women present to science quickly appears when we learn who these ladies are and remember their gender qualities. Boyle tells us that the ladies are 'related to your Lordship,' that is, to Boyle's eldest brother, to whom New Experiments was addressed. He is probably referring to their sister Lady Katherine Ranelagh [the one he lived with in London], and her daughters...Boyle always publicly presents his kinswomen as women of 'strict virtue,' which invariably includes piety, chastity, and modesty....Surely, then these women can enter the laboratory without distracting the scientist and disrupting his work. But no. Boyle's vignette show that they did disrupt the experiment, and so severely that they forced him to work at night to avoid them....The best of women, pious, chaste, modest, and compassionate, are rendered unfit for science by the very qualities that make them the best of women."
However, it seems that it was not only the ladies who cut short the first attempt at the experiment for fear of killing the bird, but another "gentle" (or does "great" preclude "gentle"?), probably a man, nor is it absolutely clear who did or did not attend the uninterrupted night experiment in which the bird was also not killed, although probably neither the ladies or the "great person."
None of the other examples from Hunter's index suggest that women disrupt the demonstrations or the experiments. Hunter uses the term virtuosa to refer to two: in one of which Boyle uses the term in the account itself, in the other Hunter says Boyle refers elsewhere to that account by using the term virtuosa. In these two the women have performed experiments themselves, although not in a laboratory or as "experimenters" but in domestic situations: In the "report from virtuosa 7.235": "supposing the Truth / of an Observation of very credible Persons critical enough in making Experiments, which, for a Confirmation and an improvement of our present Argument, I shall now subjoyn. An Ingenious Gentlewoman of my Acquaintance, Wife to a Learned Physician, taking much pleasure to keep Silk-worms, had once the Curiousity to draw out one of the Oval Cases, ...into all the Silken-wire it was made up of, which, to the great wonder as well of her Husband, as her self, who both inform'd me of it, appeared to be by measure a great deal above 300 Yards, and yet wiegh'd but two Grains and a half...." [ftn: "The original record of this observation (BP 27, p45) attributes it to 'A Virtuosa' and gives the length as 350 yards. The identity of the lady in question is not known."] Presumably this is the kind of thing Sargent is referring to. This is what Potter considers testimony rather than an example of the technical meaning of witnessing. But I would say that such technical witnessing needs not only the particular kind of people but the collective infrastructure to make the experiment credible, and that perhaps Boyle's virtual version here pulls it into that adjudicatory collectivity, which indeed may be Sargent's claim.
Sargent and Harwood might be described as offering us a Boyle who was very much concerned with showing others "how to do it yourself." This could be another register for "plain style" or for "technologies of the literal." For Sargent Boyle is less about witnessing and more about how to make good experiments; Harwood expands on how to write about experiments. Sargent understand her work to be about "experience": she calls her essay "Learning from experience." Experience and experiment are words that flow each into the other in the seventeenth century. Quakers often use the word "experimently" to describe their process of convincement--they knew it experimently. An alphabetical list from the OED ranges from "experience" to "expert" fascinatingly: it takes us through experienceable and experient with experiential and experiently to experiment, experimentalist, experimentally, experimentator, experimently, experimentor and more, onto expert. This word "experimently, adv.", now obsolete, brings some of these together: the OED defines it: "By experience; as a matter of experience; only in phrase to know experimently." And its citations are: "1546 BALE Eng. Votaries I. (1550) 21 Se what our auncient Englysh writers had sayth in thys matter, whych more experimently knewe it. 1658 A. FOX tr. Wurtz' Surg. II. xiv. 105 Which I know experimently. 1805 SOUTHEY Lett. (1856) I. 318 If you did but know as experimently as I do."
Sargent tells us: "Boyle sought to show 'the way experiments are made, so that they lose their mystery'.... It was also necessary to show the proper way in which to draw inferences from such experiments.... Boyle's cautious attitude toward most of the theories of his day was a result...of his appreciation of the problems involved with learning how to perform experiments and in judging which experimental results could be used as reliable indicators about processes operative in nature.... In order for natural philosophy to progress, the experimental basis upon which it was to be grounded would have to be broadened, which entailed that the pool of witnesses from whom observations are collected would have to be expanded. / According to Boyle, illiterate practitioners...made excellent witnesses....He sought reports about successful practices from every sector of society and from all parts of the globe.... Boyle wrote in order to make the difficulty of experimental practice vivid for his readers and to advise them that 'our way is neither short nor easy'.... He was learning his practice as he went along, and he shared his failures as well as his successes with his readers." Harwood adds to this picture: " Boyle defended his style of writing as one driven by the needs of readers who were novice experimentalists or who were relatively unskilled in practical divinity, casuistry, or theology. For rhetorical reasons he demonstrated how he made reflections and experiments, how he extracted significance from them and how he integrated personal experience and biblicism. In each mode, he assumed that his audience would be responsive both to evidence and to style."
The way I add this up at the moment is to think back to Schiebinger's assumption that it is difficult to explain why women are not in the ranks of the new science. I wonder how different that is or is not from Potter's locution: "not the new women of science." I imagine that we are seeing the wreckage of failed alternatives all about us. Quaker women's individual agencies of public preaching were made possible by different kinds of collectivity over a range of time, from prophets to global publishing, and these collectivities were adjudicating, providing a version of that "virtual witnessing" that Shapin and Schaffer make clear to us now. Margaret Cavendish strangely shared with Quaker women an experimental life of proliferating genders, of dress, of personhood, of agency, of writing, of personae, but not of this enabling collectivity. The trade model of father-daughter skill sharing and household production practice that ameliorated not-all-that-true representations of patriarchy, a set of variant collectivities, was not available to "gentle" women, although wealth, rank, mobility, patronage, marriage and family connections were. What if Cavendish had embraced rather than critiqued experimentalism? taken it up in a do-it-yourself style, rather than wanting to make up her own? entered into collectivity? Would there have been a collectivity that would welcome her? (How intent was Boyle really on being a manly man?) Or are we, today, the only possible such collectivity, a partial community reaching out across time? Kate Lilley says: "Perhaps we are at least one instance of that future audience which Margaret Cavendish so fervently desired, for certainly her work is compelling in terms of the current remapping of literary histories, and the relations of gender and literary genres." I think here of the Science in American Life exhibition at the Smithsonian, where life-size photo figures of multicultural scientists today, point to figures from the past and say, this person made my work possible. What kind of classification work, work of historical re-representation, is necessary now to show over time with greater clarity, in cooperation with more and more communities of practice, that "In the best of all possible worlds, at any given moment, the past could be reordered to better reflect multiple constituencies now and then" ?
Within new practices of queer historiography Carolyn Dinshaw produces speculative presentisms: "My use of the term [community] draws on the concept of partial connection that I developed in regard to historical relations—thus I regard partial connections across time as constitutive of communities, and in chapter 3 I call today's coalitions, organized around single issues, postmodern communities—and in this way attempts to allow for the possibility of competing and shifting claims on individuals." "Through this book I describe partial connections, queer relations between incommensurate lives and phenomena—relations that collapse the critical and theoretical oppositions between transhistorical and alterist accounts, between truth and pleasure, between past and present, between self and other." It seems to me that such queering enables negotiating forms of evidence over time such that objects can be naturalized into communities of practice that could not do so before. The units of analysis will alter, the past will be reordered. I am interested in and interested to help make historical re-representations of women in writing technological ecologies which are inevitably products of new social movements, new research agendas, new publics of interest, and new contests for historical meaning.
I think here about changes in what we might call "infrastructures of historical representation," echoing Leigh Star's analysis: "Because [infrastructures of representation are] big, layered, and complex, and because [they mean] different things locally, [they are] never changed from above. Changes take time and negotiation, and adjustments with other aspects of the systems are involved." Understanding these representations as particular forms of information infrastructure we might turn to other comments by Star: "In information infrastructure, every conceivable form of variation in practice, culture, and norm is inscribed at the deepest levels of design. Some are malleable, changeable, and programmable--if you have the knowledge, time, and other resources to do so. Others...present barriers to users that may only be changed by a full-scale social movement."