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This isn't exactly worldbuilding but honestly, I wouldn't know where else to ask it.

The scenario goes as follows. In an utter cliché moment you get summoned by some wizards to help their country/world to a higher technological level than it currently is. The current level is in this case irrelevant but let us assume it is also cliché and amounts to early mediaevalism through the eyes of romanticism/fantasy, you know what I'm talking about.

These wizards aren't entirely stupid and know you can't have all the knowledge of your world in your pocket. As such, they allow you to travel back to your world only once to take as much knowledge with you as you can to theirs.

Now for the question, how would you take as much knowledge with you through a summoning assuming you can take anything you want with you at least within reasonable size (so taking the entire earth with you isn't valid!). The goal is obviously to rebuild the knowledge with as little research as possible, so not taking something with you that's easily researched is viable strategy. Ergo, how do you economically take knowledge from one plane through another through summoning?

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    $\begingroup$ you can't have all the knowledge of your world in your pocket have these wizards never heard of phones? $\endgroup$ – user2366 Nov 23 '15 at 4:16
  • $\begingroup$ well...they are wizards. How about you just learn magic from them and bring back awesome knowledge. Wouldn't that be awesome? ;) $\endgroup$ – DroidDev Nov 23 '15 at 6:56
  • $\begingroup$ Well, they might have heard of them. I mean, they must have a more profound reason to further their civilization. Being an iphone fanboy is as good a reason as any I guess. Also magic, depends on the fuel really. If you need mana and we don't have any here, then you're out of luck. $\endgroup$ – black Nov 23 '15 at 8:25
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Spending the money to buy a really good encyclopedia (on acid free paper) and "The Way Things Work" would provide the background for developing to the level of our civilization at the time the books were published.

Note I am advocating for real books rather than an e-reader since it is far less likely to cause problems (i.e. the startled apprentice drops the e reader when it lights up....) and books on acid free paper can last centuries.

Depending on the actual mass/volume of what you are allowed to bring back, filling a large, quality carrying case (something like a Pelican case which is waterproof and airtight, depending on the model) will ensure you can bring back a decent quantity of books (how to manuals, and step by step instruction books), and your library will survive for so long as the case is closed and protected (no barbarians making off with your library!)

One other book you should bring is a good economics textbook, or Adam Smith's "Wealth of Nations". It is one thing to have the technological know how to build steam engines and bolt action rifles, but generating the wealth to build the infrastructure to design and manufacture all that is going to be a big hurdle to overcome. You will be on a steep learning curve to "build the tools to build the tools", and if your economy cannot support the needed growth for raw materials, design and testing work, hiring and training skilled workmen, getting more food (since the peasants will be very attracted to factory work if it is more remunerative than being a serf on a farm) and so on. The real foundation of our civilization is the ability to create and manipulate wealth, and capitalism is about the generating and use of capital. If the King is hoarding all the new found wealth of machine production, then the rate of growth will be very slow, and advancing will also be constrained.

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    $\begingroup$ Perhaps a valid answer to my own question would be a combination of both Steve birds' and your answer. The essentials on books and then extrapolate it on the tablets since they can hold more but are of a fragile nature. And while adam smith is certainly a must, it is also partially outdated, so perhaps supplementing that with some uni handbooks wouldn't be a bad idea. I'll accept your answer because I like the approach and it adds some additional insights. $\endgroup$ – black Nov 22 '15 at 18:17
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    $\begingroup$ Marxism might be more useful than capitalism. IMHO the economic model was really a form of mercantilism which is less advanced and thus easier to implement (and sell/explain). Also it covers issues about the evolution of economic systems and how that forces the evolution of society, including the technology and political system. Things the mages really should be told before they want technology they lack resources to use, advanced economic models they can't sustain, or inadvertently cause social unrest and revolution they will blame on you. And they totally will blame you, you know. $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi Nov 23 '15 at 3:15
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    $\begingroup$ I'd lean more towards the how things work series than encyclopaedias. I had two sets of encyclopaedias when I was a kid (some local junior set and the full Britannica) and I can tell you that the articles are only good enough for you to write a report - they lack enough technical details to be useful. How things work books on the other hand had enough details for me to make cardboard mock-ups. Oh, also bring Michiavelli but don't show it to anyone - play politics and become a king! $\endgroup$ – slebetman Nov 23 '15 at 4:21
  • $\begingroup$ I would say the more important reason to send back an economics textbooks is to give humanity time to rewrite the field of economics without messing it up so terribly. $\endgroup$ – Scott Nov 23 '15 at 5:31
  • $\begingroup$ Well, this wasn't anything more than a hypothetical question rather than something I'd want to implement (though, considering it, it might be really interesting). Furthermore, before we even consider the economic base we have to consider your own standing and implemented culture. There are bound to be differences, example: perhaps the women eat the males after copulating. Next to that, the diseases you bring with you and infect you there but have no immunity for. How do you cope with that? There's lots of technical, social, economical, etc difficulties that lurk around the wizard hat. $\endgroup$ – black Nov 23 '15 at 8:21
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Assuming that the magical world doesn't have entirely different physical sciences - Get a solar-powered e-book reader, download as many gigabytes of science, engineering and medical text books as you can cram in. Include starter texts as well as intermediate and advanced texts.

Might be worth looking up some older texts and history of technology books so that you have some idea of how to transition from their current state of technology to your current technological level too. If you're willing to share it about carry as many additional readers as you can manage.

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  • $\begingroup$ I wonder what is the expected lifetime of the e-reader... also compared to real books there is the issue of parallelism: you may wish to have multiple e-readers (possibly with duplicated content) so that multiple scribes can copy in parallel. $\endgroup$ – Matthieu M. Nov 23 '15 at 9:05
  • $\begingroup$ To be fair the question was about porting large amounts of knowledge in one go rather than long term usage. While paper books might have the edge in longevity, you can get much, much more information in electronic form for the same weight. As noted, it would be easier to carry across multiple e-readers than it would to carry multiple copies of the same works in paper form. $\endgroup$ – Steve Bird Nov 23 '15 at 10:34
  • $\begingroup$ Oh I agree, and to be honest I had not even thought about longevity before reading about it in other answers. Regarding copies: you would not need multiples copies of the same book to allow parallelizing the copying, just having multiple (different) books suffices. $\endgroup$ – Matthieu M. Nov 23 '15 at 10:51
  • $\begingroup$ @MatthieuM. Well the e-reader only needs to last long enough for everything to be copied once. In a mediaeval economy, human labour is cheap and you can probably transcribe the books faster than the one person with the context to understand them can go explaining them to the magi. $\endgroup$ – Mike L. Nov 23 '15 at 18:14
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    $\begingroup$ @MikeL.: According to this a single man may produce 2 or 3 manuscripts per year (though schematics may slow him down). With a single e-reader, a single man may work at a time... The Bible e-book is about 1.4MB, so for many GB I expect there to be more than 1,000 e-books, and thus the e-reader has to last more than 300 years. $\endgroup$ – Matthieu M. Nov 24 '15 at 8:36
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I second paper books, though carrying around a reader as well may be worth trying.

No matter how good the textbooks are, they assume a student being surrounded by the very civilization you want to copy.

Thus, in addition to textbooks you'll probably need a description of scientific method, some reference manuals on math/physics/chemistry, and a collection of simple facts that will work as a carcass for deep, thorough knowledge. Note that you should also plan experiments that prove any such fact to hold in your new universe.

For instance, a textbook on modern medicine will be useless until you develop some advanced chemistry to make drugs. However, mere knowledge that bacteria exist (if it holds) may save thousand of lives.

And also you'll need a description of a simple printing press so that whatever you bring with you can be replicated fast.

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    $\begingroup$ And don't forget agricultural knowledge. A technological society requires much higher farm productivity than medieval practice, in order to support the "non-productive" (in food terms) technical workers. $\endgroup$ – WhatRoughBeast Nov 22 '15 at 22:20
  • $\begingroup$ This is going to be tough, given that they may have different cultures growing on different soils in different weather conditions. Worse still, farmers are typically tough, conservative guys, they will oppose and sabotage any change. Still at least knowledge that fertilizers exist and primitive mechanization should help a bit. $\endgroup$ – Dallaylaen Nov 22 '15 at 22:44
  • $\begingroup$ Not to mention different diseases that attack the crops and the people, Lack of resources (for instance if you have no means to produce rubber or oil). This would be such a huge huge undertaking. At least, if you yourself don't die of contracted diseases for which you don't have an immunity. $\endgroup$ – black Nov 23 '15 at 8:28
  • $\begingroup$ @black Sure. Let's hope the wizards in question are good healers, too. $\endgroup$ – Dallaylaen Nov 23 '15 at 9:50
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Have you seen the Time Traveler Cheat Sheet? That alone will get you everything you need to kickstart a medieval society up to industrial (although most of it will be very difficult to achieve straight away). The rest can be figured out with research: simply knowing a task is possible can be enough to generate the means to solve it (e.g. an atomic bomb can be worked out with only a high school education and access to materials).

From there, download the text-of-articles-only copy of Wikipedia (a mere 43 GB uncompressed). Most of which will be useless (articles on plants, animals, people, places, and historical events which have no bearing on your task) but the remainder will provide a fairly solid background on useful topics and easily searchable. While it might not go into sufficient detail to act as a blueprint, it should provide the cursory knowledge which your wizard contacts should be able to learn from and devise their own solutions.

Follow that up with a trip over to http://www.survivorlibrary.com/ and download the stored resources there, which cover a variety of topics and generally used as a resource in case Earth bombs itself back to the stone age. It is unfortunately mostly ORC'd pdfs (not very compressible), but does fit on 31 DVDs (or 6 BluRay) which are available for purchase (that is: I don't see a 'download all' link, but I do see the DVDs for purchase which gives an indication of size).

A modest tablet computer and recharge method (e.g. solar) along with an external battery (charge the battery with the solar, charge your device from the battery) or two will be sufficient material resources to store your collective knowledge. If you can, bring a bunch, rather than forcing everyone to cluster around a single screen.

The first thing you'll want to do is devise other methods to recharge your tablets so that you aren't confined to the dwindling resources you brought with you (solar cells will fracture, cables will fray, things will get damaged). Which you should be able to do with the time traveler's cheat sheet alone. Thin copper will will likely be your first challenge, and while easy to manufacture in quantity with the right tools, making those tools and finding a supply of raw ore will be difficult.

A good wire draw plate may be advisable to locate and bring with you as well, as it is light and easily transportable and absolutely essential to the production of wire, as well as some strong neodymium magnets. Both will speed the production of your first generator (necessary to keeping the devices regularly charged!) and will be very difficult to produce otherwise.

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    $\begingroup$ That's actually very interesting and I hadn't realised something like that existed. In hindsight, it's natural considering we also have databanks for seeds etc in rl, conserving knowledge is just another aspect of the entire preservation. And while these things probably didn't get realised within of a professional context, they still have some decent value. And it does seem very interesting. Thanks for the documents! $\endgroup$ – black Nov 24 '15 at 11:59
  • $\begingroup$ Sure thing! I forget how I heard about the Survivor Library, but I have perused it myself on one occasion (I was doing some realistic type mechanics in a game and needed to research how things were done). $\endgroup$ – Draco18s no longer trusts SE Nov 24 '15 at 13:44

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