Chapter 26: Handwerke und Künste in Tabellen

'P. N. Sprengels Handwerke und Künste in Tabellen' (Berlin, 1767-1795)

Published in March 2023

The favorite book of Christian Kuhn

Christian Kuhn was scholar in residence at the Iron Library in August 2021. His project brings together research in the history of technology, the environment, and science in a way that places the current search for ideas about the best possible bee housing in the context of historical trajectories. One set of books that could not escape his notice during his stay with us was P.N. Sprengel's 'Handwerke und Künste in Tabellen'. In it, he found Sprengel himself full of optimism and zest for action.

The reader

The document in which I would like to play a role…
...would be on the theme of my stay in the Iron Library, the film 'Honeyland' (2019). In a declining village in Macedonia, Hatidze, a natural beekeeper, tends hives to provide herself and her mother with basic necessities. She keeps colonies of bees in rock caves and tree hollows and is able to use her human voice to mimic the croaking sounds of a young queen, so that a swarm lands and can be captured by her. Hatidze and her mother are poor, living and suffering a meager existence in which bees provide a constant support for their life. They live in harmony with nature, experiencing the ins and outs of the seasons over the year, and then harvest the honey that ensures their survival. Hatidze Muratova, whose life is documented, was named "Most Compelling Living Subject of a Documentary" by the 2019 Critics' Choice Documentary Awards.

I would love to witness the protagonist living with the bees at this earlier stage of the film. Less so in the later parts of the film, when a for-profit seasonal beekeeper moves into one of the vacant neighboring houses, would remind me too much of today's intensive beekeeping

The book I would really like to read a sequel to... 'Geschichte der Staatsgewalt' by Wolfgang Reinhard. Due to the scope and the concentration of the subject matter, namely the history of Europe since antiquity, this book is for me not an optional historical account. I would be interested in a continuation in the same style, in which current processes that seem new to us (globalization, digitalization, self-disclosure of information by each individual, artificial intelligence) are taken into account. I hope it would provide answers to the question of how state power develops in this changing environment.

The books that are currently on my nightstand…
...are 'Kairos' by Jenny Erpenbeck (Munich, 2021) and an issue of the humanist magazine 'diesseits', through whose reports I once again came across the excellent book. In it, the chair of the jury for the Uwe Johnson Literature Prize, the Giessen literary scholar Carsten Gansel, formulates the idea that literature enables a "redistribution of experience". It also reminds me of my stay at the Iron Library.

The book

P.N. Sprengel: 'P. N. Sprengels Handwerke und Künste in Tabellen' (Berlin, 1767-1795)

On the very first day, I noticed P.N. Sprengel's book "Handwerke und Künste in Tabellen. With engravings. Treatment of the plant kingdom". Actually, I already knew it by name from the catalog and from a partial digital copy, but now nine leather volumes stood before me on the cart with the books I had ordered. The title "Handwerke [...] in Tabellen" had misled me. I had expected to find a wordless, bullet-point abbreviated table on my subject. Instead, this is actually a conversational book that seeks to inform its readers about its present.

In doing so, this book is full of optimism and drive. In typical Enlightenment fashion, the author justifies his publication by saying that he wants to be charitable. He is addressing the youth, he wants to present to them in overview and in detail an overview of the crafts to which they would like to devote themselves one day for their own happiness. Apparently, he had already taught this material and published it to do even more public service.

"[If] only fortune always brought us some craftsmen who are fine enough not to consider our inquiries suspicious; to hold us as friends of their children; and to instill in us courage in our zeal by comforting looks and willing instruction" (Preface to the first volume of 1767).

Here, humanity as a whole is addressed to help the youth to help themselves to a happy life through an active life. This love of humanity is especially evident in the fact that children are depicted working - sawing, pottery, weaving - on the title page. The recipients of the dedication are two directors of orphanages in Berlin and Frankfurt, a principal of a secondary school and a pastor. The pedagogical optimism of publishing into an unjust world showing pain and imperfections is nevertheless a reading experience, despite all the justified criticism of the Enlightenment by today's historians.

The book in IRONCAT

Sprengel's Handwerke und Künste in the catalog of the Iron Library