The Physician's Album Amicorum: Humanist Cultures of Knowledge Networking

The Physician's Album Amicorum: Humanist Cultures of Knowledge Networking

The genre of album amicorum, or Stammbuch, or “traveling friendship book,” became popular in mid-sixteenth century in the Protestant circles, where a piece of manu propria advice from Luther or Melanchthon could serve as a collectable rarity and a letter of recommendation. The genre implemented the principles of mimesis veterum and allegorical exegesis, and representing a collective variety of loci communes, which produced rich and diverse volumes of autographs, drawings, and prints, often protected by embossed leather bindings and cases. Stammbücher offer abundant evidence not only on social relations but also on the literary, theological, musical, and medical cultures of early modernity, as well as witnessing the vitality of humanist legacy in witty and vivid quotations. This genre also participated in maintaining the early networks of scientific communication, as many of the alba were kept by university professors, physicians, lawyers, theologians, educated artisans, and students moving between scholarly communities. These manuscripts feature a range of spectacular visuals and “paper technologies,” and display the relations of intellectual trust within and between specific groups, which later converted into formal institutional links. Travelling the Wanderstrassen across Europe, the scientific Stammbücher became the Bilderfahrzeuge, in the terms of Aby Warburg, for cultivating the expert collective perception of significant details in verbal and visual knowledge historia, and the construction of topical series accessible at a glance—an operation shaping the ontologies of natural learning and scenarios of experimental action. The scientific Stammbücher served not only as a means of learned recreation but promoted a dialogue between the interdisciplinary cultures of knowledge, and imparted new and exotic experiences through the performativity of an aesthetic appeal.

Maria Avxentevskaya's project “The Physician’s Album Amicorum: Humanist Cultures of Knowledge Networking” considers how the alba helped assimilated subjective and objective factors in constructing early scientific discourse, enabling a stabilization of the object for a scholarly community, which informed the institutionalized ontologies of knowledge. This study presumes an extensive use of up-to-date technologies of digital network analysis and visualization.