A Daily History of Holes, Dots, Lines, Science, History, Math, the Unintentional Absurd & Nothing |1.6 million words, 7500 images, 3.9 million hits| Press & appearances in The Times, The Paris Review, Le Figaro, MENSA, The Economist, The Guardian, Discovery News, Slate, Le Monde, Sci American Blogs, Le Point, and many other places... 4,000+ total posts
This fine, odd, and aggressively progressive-towards-skinniness of a graph appeared on plate 143 (page 173) in the great series of data visualization classics, the Statistical Atlas of the United States, published in Washington D.C., 1924. It is one of the simplest maps showing the development of the populations (compared to these extraordinary and classic attempts, here), and it is interesting to see where cities stood in 1920 relative to where they are today. For example, Detroit comes up at fourth in 1920, Cleveland 5th, Pittsburgh 8th, Buffalo 10th, Milwaukee 12, Newark 14th, Cincinnati 15th--of these, only Detroit (#19) and Milwaukee (#28) break the top-thirty in the census for 2010.
These creative displays are found in Marion Florence Lansing's The Wonder of Life (volume 11, Supplementary), published in 1921. They represent a somewhat humanized-but-roboticized/automated approach to displaying he control of the senses, which seems to have been a developing style in the 1920's giving the popular cultural appearance of mechanical people (the term "robot" appearing for the first time in this same year in Karel Capek's play R.U.R.). The images also appear, appropriately enough, in the chapter titled "The Machinery of Our Bodies".
Welcome to the not-too-distant past, the era of my grandmother, when in 1910 50% or more of 10 to 13 year-old boys in Mississippi, Alabama, and South Carolina were working, and working at real jobs. There does seem to be a remarkable change in the employment situation in the next census of 1920.
[The maps below appear in Statistical Atlas of the United States, prepared by Charles S. Sloane, published in Washington, 1925, plates 230 and 232.]
There is a peculiar beauty to discovering a sleeping obviousness--something that is so present and apparent and minor that it can present for a while before you suddenly recognize it, and then the obviousness is all that you can see. "Hiding in plain site" is something that it might be called, though I don't think we have a word for it in English.
Here's an example of it, found in Dante. It may seem perverse to look at beautiful images like this/these illustrating one of the greatest stories that has ever been spun, but the tiny letters signifying the actors defined in the motion take on their ow unusual lives for me. It seems very odd to identify objects that are so obvious and form the direction of the story and need no identification. (Some things need no introduction, like Dante and Beatrice, and Yogi Berra. (A friend told me a story of going to a function and being seated next to Berra for dinner, Yogi walking up to him and extending a hand saying "Hi, I'm Yogi". No kidding?)) But I guess someone thought the notation was necessary, even if it both spoils and beautifies the simplicity of the design.
The edition of Dante is by Alessandro Vellutello, (La Coemdia con la nova espostione de Alessandro Vellutello...published in Venice in 1544) who extended himself to include the (87) illustrations that I just mentioned, and included a text full of glosses. No doubt the signifiers in the illustrations are aids to the supplementary text--still, they seem to be fairly unnecessary.
Here's an entire gallery of the Vellutello illustrations at World of Dante, http://www.worldofdante.org/gallery_vellutello.html
That said, most of the time I appreciate the annotated image (speaking here of the non-technical/scientific ones) mainly because without the help the iconography sometimes escapes me. The Vellutello illustrations are much more "modern" than previous illustrations made for Dante, and seem to bridge the centuries of differentiated understanding so far as the interpretation of the images are concerned. On the other hand I appreciate the effort made for explanation in the engraving by Cornelis Galle of the Devil as it lived and breathed in Dante, the help coming in many forms. For example, without the annotations I would probably never have noticed the "D" and "V" figures (Virgil carrying Dante) so I am thankful for the help:
I found this interesting graphic in the Illustrirte Zeitung (Leipzig) showing the production of bombs in Germany for last half-year of WWI. The aviator seems happy enough, at least for the readers of the magazine, reassuring that something was goign on in the defense of the country, even though the writing was pretty much on the wall when this image appeared in late August, 1918, six weeks away from the end. It is a small graphical display--about 2.5x4 inches or so--and it is a congratulatory message on the massive amount of munitions that were produced from January-July 1918. This was one among many that just wasn't enough.
There's some very strong stuff in this U.S. Civilian Defense (CD) pamphlet--the graphics are as razor-sharp as the suggestions that the pamphlet was making. This was issued in the hurtlocker year of 1943, and it called for all manner of civilian volunteers to train for keep-society-together stuff should there be an attack on the United States.
[Image depicts an air warden calling in his observation of a German air attack. The aircraft looks to me like a Dornier Do 17 "The Flying Pencil".]
The "Civilian Protection Jobs" on notice and advised in this pamphlet included calls to citizens for: command section (3 per 1,000 population, 20 hours training); Drivers Corps (5 per 1,000, 38 hours of training); Messengers, (8 per 1,000, 20 hours of training); rescue squad (2 per 1000, 40 hours of training); auxiliary police (4 per 1000, 23 hours of training); auxiliary firemen (4 per 1000, 27 hours of training); fire watchers (15 per 1000, 10 hours training); demolition and clearance units (2 per 1000, 10 hours of training); decontamination units (1 per 1000, 20 hours of training); emergency welfare units (1 per 1000, 7 hours of training). There is also an index for another hundred or so jobs that needed to be filled in time of national emergency.
As it happens my copy was one of two sent to the Library of Congress for copyright purposes and it includes this press release, which explains the pamphlet:
Here's an unexpected bit of data visualization: at the tail end of an obscure pamphlet --A Sketchbook of the Activities of the Japan Wireless Telegraph Co., Ltd.--a 26-page work published in Tokyo in 1925 was this fine and unusual-looking chart of comparative heights of Japanese structures. This also includes two of my favorite comparative unit comparables--upended ships (#s 10 & 11), including the aircraft carrier Akagi (#11).
I found this very unusual map of China in a pamphlet entitled Higher Education's Century of Progress in China, published for the Associated Boards for Christian Colleges in China in New York City in 1938. This is well into a solid decade of internal political turmoil in China, coupled with years of dealing with an invasive Japan, and all rolled up in 1938 with the first few years of an all-out Sino-Japanese War (the second one, the first occurring at the end of the last century). This war wasn't necessarily a war between two opposing armies--it was also a war between the Japanese army and the people of China. This was highly demonstrated from December 1937 to January 1938 with the massacre and mass rapes committed against unarmed combatants in the Republic of China's capital city, Nanjing/Nanking prior to its occupation--this is known as the Rape of Nanking, and is so known for very secure reasons. There was also a devastating flood of the Yellow River.
In a series of decades of difficult years, 1938 was particularly difficult year for China.
That said, this pamphlet discusses the "century of progress" in China by Christian missionaries, and the "birth and development of Christian education there". The situation in China in 1938 for this pamphlet was that there were 300 million illiterate Chinese--"it is a situation that challenges the Christian world!" so it reads. Perhaps what this meant was that they could not read the Bible until they were taught how to read it.
And that was the extent of the recognition of what was going on in China. To capitulate the interests of history those who generated this work included a map of China that included almost no detail except for Christian colleges.
It must have felt very comfortable for the Associated Boards for Christian Colleges in China to have published this pamphlet in 1938, having the China situation well in hand, snug in the comfort of a real or imagined pew, the issue and morality of its optics unchallenged by reality.
Here's a quick revelation that isn't so secret or mysterious, answering the pamphlet's title What Made Tibet Mysterious? The answer has probably always been obvious for as long as anyone has known of Tibet--and it is displayed in the comparative graphic on the front cover:
Of course there are many other mysterious parts that comprise Tibet, but the one that is most obvious has to do with location, and extreme location at that--this pamphlet cover takes care of that right away.
Many years ago I found this Menominee County (Michigan) history1, produced for grade school consumption--advanced consumption, I should say, in spite of its initial homespun appearance. So in the midst of many maps and good content, this oversized double-brick of a pamphlet (9x13" and 500 pages) I found in the middle of it a section on logging--which was a major industry there in the 19th and into some of the 20th century--and in that section there were a number of pages of unexpected diagrams and drawings of log brands.
They were unexpected right up until the point I saw them, and then their use and necessity was immediately obvious. I mean, there were dozens and hundreds of logging companies, and even though they were working in their restricted areas which were at some point distantly removed from other firms, many of them used the same river to transport their logs to the mills downstream. The loggers would cut the trees, and then get them to the river or a hill leading down to the river, and then into the water hundreds and thousands of trees would go. Multiply that x-times, and you have a water-borne mobile horizontal forest. The log brands/marks would allow the final dispensation of the tree to be counted in favor of the company's brand. I just never thought about it before, but now that I'm introduced to it the idea is very sharp.
I've reproduced the log brands from the Menominee history book, below.
Logs on the river, not moving:
[Source: National Park Service, http://www.nps.gov/sacn/learn/historyculture/stories.htm]
This two-page spread in the Illustrated London News appeared at the end of June, 1940, nine months into WWII, just two weeks or so before the beginning of the Battle of Britain. This was an extended battle lasting until September 1941 in which there were hundreds of German bombing raids flown over the U.K., with most of the damage and civilian deaths centered in London. In all some 40,000 civilians were killed in the raids, about half of them in London. Belfast, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Coventry, Glasgow, Hull, Manchester, Portsmouth, Plymouth, Sheffield, Southampton, Swansea, and other cities were also bombed, some of them pulverized--for example, Hull received an enormous amount of attention for being a port city and easily identifiable by air, and was attacked more than 80 times, and Coventry's central city was decimated. (Enter "Battle of Britain" or "Blitz" in the Google search box for the other posts on this blog on this subject.)
But right at the beginning of this period the popular weekly published this listing of enemy planes--it was a smart thing to do, because it made millions of people into observers and data gatherers.
The artist of this work was the very very busy and talented G.H. Davis, who I have written about numerous times on this blog (just enter his name in the Google search box and you find a number of interesting tech drawings that he completed for the ILN).
“O time, thou must untangle this, not I. It is too hard a knot for me t'untie.”--William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night
This beautiful collection of knots and splices appeared on the front cover of Scientific American, March 18, 1871--a knot for every need. Knots become ever more complex at about the same time in the hands of the great mathematician and teacher, P.G. Tait. Tait was the major domo of knot classifiers so significant in the developing field of topology, and followed the work of Vandermonde, Gauss, and Kelvin. But here, in 1871, these were just beautiful and useful knots having open ends, and not having anything to do with the Tait conjecture--that would come later.
This fine little inset appears in "Chart of Principal Vegetable Growths and Chief Staples" from Matthew Fontaine Maury's Physical Geography, a classic work for schools, which was printed in 1873. Maury is considered to be the father of U.S. oceanography (The Physical Geography of the Sea (1855), was the groundbreaking work) and was a real pioneer in several areas. This did not exclude his adventures on behalf of the Commonwealth of Virginia and the Confederate States of America, where he served as Chief of Sea Coast, River and Harbor Defenses, among other things. Maury had a complicated relationship with the idea of slavery, attempting to eradicate slavery (and slaves) by removing the institution and perhaps the owners and their plantations to the Amazon basin.
This small inset (above) measures 6x2.5" in the original on a 13x10" map, and shows the elevations at which certain trees and plants are found. It is an ingenious display, and depicts about 60 different samples. (The print in the map is about 1mm tall, by the way.)
J.G. Heck wrote and compiled a fascinating and complex work entitled The Iconographic Encyclopedia of Science, Literature and Art, and was published in America for the first time in 1851 following Spencer Baird’s translation from its original German.
The key to his work is the amount of data displayed on each of the 500 engraved plates illustrating this work and the way in which it is arranged. The design and layout of the 30,000 items on these 500 plates was a work of genius, and for my money it is easily the best-presented complex means of the display of data and objects that was published in the 19th century.
The image above is from one engraved plate featuring 43 aspects of the human eye--beautifully arranged, and somehow fitting perfectly on the 9x11" sheet of paper. It is a work of real design engineering.
Before the Neil deGrasse Tyson version and update of Carl Sagan's landmark television series, Cosmos, there was Alexander von Humboldt, and his enormously influential book of the same title, printed in 1845-1862. Well, von Humboldt's (1769-1859) book was actually Kosmos when published in German, which is where it started its life (and which von Humboldt suffered mightily for in it English translation). Von Humboldt was enormously studied and educated and of a high scientific mind over many subjects, one of those 19th century figures who seemed as though they could know everything, a polymath of high order (along the lines of Goethe and von Helmholtz and Thomas Young and others). He was a meteorologist and biogeographer before those sciences existed; a naturalist, geographer, archaeologist, and explorer, a natural philosopher of magnitudes.
The original of this map is available for purchase from the blog's bookstore, here.
Kosmos reflected his lifelong interest in order, and what he did was astonishing--he attempted to unifying the complexities of nature in one book (of five volumes), binding the various branches of science together in a cohesive whole, attempting to show how the laws of the universe acted here on Earth. It was a very influential work, very progressive, a masterwork of scientific method.
Sagan (and Tyson, soon) tried to explain what the universe was all about; 160+ years ago, so did von Humboldt, and for his time he came damned close to doing so, or as close as anyone could possibly come.
The fine little inset1 above (1x1.5 inches in real life) is an excellent display of water/land mass of the Earth, and is but one of eleven such images on this beautiful image (which appears in full, below):
"Der Erdkorper in seiner Gestaltung. Erdansichten. Entworfen von Tr. Bromme. Ausgefuhrt v. E. Winckelmann", published in Stuttgart, by Verlag von Krais & Hoffman. This map appeared in the atlas of Alexander von Humboldt's Kosmos, 1851.