Biological Hermeneutics

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Fig. 1: Blue mould. Robert Hooke, Micrographia (1665). Schem. 12, fig. 1.
Fig. 2: Book-worm. Robert Hooke, Micrographia (1665). Schem. 33. Book-worm is Fig. 3, to far left of page.

Biological Hermeneutics is the transdisciplinary study of written and printed media using artistic and scientific methods to trace the biological history of the text. For more on transdisciplinary study see transdisciplinarity.


Biological Hermeneutics came into being after the development of the microscope during the 17th century. The most celebrated practitioner Robert Hooke devoted two of his 'Schema' of his ground breaking book Micrographia to the study of the microbiome of the book.

Schema 12 was drawn from studying the red covers of a ‘small book’ which he judged to be made of ‘Sheeps skin’, he found:

… a small white spot of hairy mould, multitudes of which I found to bespeck & whiten [the book]. These spots appear’d, through a good Microscope, to be a very pretty shap’d Vegetative body, which, from almost the same part of the Leather, shot out multitudes of small long cylindrical and transparent stalks …[1]

Schema 33 is dedicated to 'the study of the small silver coloured book-worm'.[2]

The development of the discipline stalled however with the ascendance of Sir Isaac Newton to the presidency of the Royal Society where he 'did much to obscure Hooke'.

A collection of books maintaining the investigation of the transdiscipline can be found at Chetham's Library where the practice was developed from Hooke's initial investigations through the collecting policy of successive librarians who 'set out to acquire a major collection of books and manuscripts that would cover the whole range of available knowledge and would rival the college libraries of Oxford and Cambridge'[3]

In order to collect biological material for later study books were sent out into the community as parish libraries. Gorton library is the last surviving example and has yet to be investigated using Biological Hermeneutic techniques.

In 1831 the foundation of the British Association for the Advancement of Science led to the popularisation of science and enabled a wider group to undertake their own investigations outside of the Royal Society creating a space for the further development of the practice.


  1. ^ "Micrographia, by Robert Hooke : observ20". Retrieved 2017-07-16.
  2. ^ "Micrographia, by Robert Hooke : Observ. LII. Of the small Silver-colour'd Book-worm". Retrieved 2017-07-16.
  3. ^ "Chetham's Library | History". Chetham's Library. Retrieved 2017-07-16.