From Lorraine Daston, "Taking Note(s)," Isis 95:3 (2004), 443–448, on 444.
I would like to explore, in a tentative vein, the implications of the history of scientific reading for other, more familiar forms of scientific practice, such as observation, but also for what might be called cognitive practices: economies of attention, arts of memory, the solidification and erosion of belief. Reading is and has been for millennia so central and seminal an intellectual practice that it has long served as the principal metaphor for understanding tout court. More concretely, ways of reading, absorbed at a young age and constantly practiced, may supply the templates for other ways of making sense of objects quite distinct from the manuscript or printed page —the morphology of a plant, the trajectory of a comet, the slide under the microscope, the “reading” of an instrument. This would especially have been the case for those who —for reasons of class, gender, and the cultural status of literacy —would have learned bookish skills before or to the exclusion of manual ones. Reading practices may also mold the self of the reader, at least among those who devote many of their waking hours to intercourse with books. Despite the bibliophobic rhetoric that since the seventeenth century has upheld the study of things over that of words, portraits of scientists even in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries still depict their subjects with books as well as with test tubes, skulls, chemical models, and other tools of empirical inquiry. The norms of scientific publication ensure that scientists continue to read for much the same reasons they continue to write — and both incessantly. The library remains as essential to most sciences as the laboratory. What imprint do these ingrained habits leave upon the scientific reader?