A Daily History of Holes, Dots, Lines, Science, History, Math, the Unintentional Absurd & Nothing |1.6 million words, 7000 images, 3.6 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... 3,000+ total posts
"All the roots hang down Swing from town to town They are marching around Down under your boots Below the gopher holes Where they all unfold There's a world going on underground Underground"--Tom Waits ("Underground", with audio)
Dirt isn't just the stuff that one gets rid of, of course--it is the basis of all that we are. Varieties of dirt are the stuff of the connoisseur and the expert, and when laid out properly, and particularly in a scientific manner, dirt is exceptionally beautiful. For example, this exceptional and large illustration appears in the Atlas of American Agriculture, which was printed in a very unpretty/dustbowly year for soil, 1936. (The image is clearer once you click in and expand.)
The lithograph is also available for sale at the blog's bookstore, here.
JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post--revisited and expanded
[Small detail from the quantitative display, below; measures 2x2 3/4".]
I wrote about this earlier on this blog but went back to it today to expand it a little and add to the illustrations--and to also place it in the for sale section of the blog.
Generally the dozens of maps/charts showing the comparative heights of mountains and lengths of rivers maps that have come through the store part of this blog have been somewhat large--or at least larger than the present example, which may be about the smallest (at about 11x8") detailed representative of this genre that I have seen.
"Tableu de la Hauteur des Pricnipales Montagenes du Globe" was published in Guillemin's Atlas universel de Geographie Ancienne et Moderne, and published by Langlume in 1845. It is also at the beginning of the more-modern heyday for publishing maps and charts such as these. (The practice began modestly at the end of the 18th century, came into a high tide in the 1850's/1860's or so, and then pretty much disappeared by the 1880's.)
There's a lot of comparatively-displayed information presented on 88 square inches, including the lengths of 30 rivers and the heights of about 500 mountain peaks distributed over Africa, Europe, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas. And for as much imagery and data there is on this sheet, the whole is very nicely designed, a real success in the display of quantitative data.
Starting at the year 14 (ACE) with the reign of Augustus Caesar this large two-sheet chronology organizes the rulers of the Western world so far as it was known into the early 19th century. ("Geographie de l'Histoire. ou Situation Relative des Etats et Souverains de l'Europe (in two parts), published by Molini and Landi, in Florence, in 1806.) There are 15 major divisions from the year 400-1800, with a short bit at the top of the first chart covering the previous 386 years or so. The columns show the rulers of reach century for Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Spain (then subdividing as necessary). There is one column for the "nations barbares" that covers everyone else in about 2" per century; there is another column for the chronology of Popes; one column for a general history of the Christian church, one column for celebrated and famous people, and then a final column for literature and the arts.
You can own these! Check them out on the blog's bookstore, here.
At the very least the chart helps you keep your rulers straight, so to speak--it is also the sort of engaging display of data that if it was hanging up and accessible that people would read it all the time in passing.
The sheets are large (27x21" or 68x53cm, and combined (as I have done in the past) they make a very imposing display 42x27" (106x68cm). The coloring (except for the odd darkish green) is fairly subtle but evident and useful in distinguishing the blocks of data at an easy glance.
I' a big fan of this sort of arrangement and display of data, trying as I used to in graduate school (and still do now) to fit the appropriate memory triggers on any given subject onto one sheet of 8.5x11" paper. It is a highly useful memory exercise, creating your own memory palace.
These charts appear in A. Le Sage (Comte de La-Casas) Atlas historique chronologique et géographique ou Tableau général de l histoire universelle présentant un moyen sûr et facile de classer avec fruit tout ce qui s est passé depuis la création jusqu à Jésus Christ espace de 4004 ans....
This map may be simply named ("Mountains & Rivers") but the information it displays is hardly so. As a matter of fact there are probably a thousand data points in this flowing, pleasingly-design comparative display of information--and the closer you look, the more there is.
In the mountains section there are hundreds of pieces of data locating the elevations at which cities and towns are found, and the altitudes of the extent of different types of trees, and of course the comparative heights of enumerated mountains set off by the continents. Above the mountains floats the fantastic display of the lengths of rivers, listing 43 in all, showing cities at the various stages of each river's progress.
It really is a glorious thing.
"Maps & Rivers" was printed and published by Johnson & Ward in 1862 and appeared in Johnson's New Illustrated Family Atlas; there is at least one earlier version that appeared in 1856 with a different background and with ornate Celtic-inspired borders, though I prefer this version with the simple border and the full blue-sky-and-clouds background. For my experience this is one of the richest of the genre published in the mid/late 19th century.
The original map is available for sale at the blog's bookstore, here.
This is one of the earliest depictions of what we know today as the Gulf Stream, and it appears one among many wonders in Fr. Athanasius Kircher's Mundus Subterraneus (1668). The map appears about a century before the first map to truly distinguish the Gulf Stream (the B. Franklin/Folger map of 1768-1785) and shows the remarkable activity that must have come with the acquisition of the data necessary to show on even this popular map. Given that teh data was necessarily spotty at this early period the Kircher effort was largely theoretical (and for what it was worth likened the currents to something similar to blood moving though the body, which at least used the work of William Harvey). (Eberhard Happel is on a similar wavelength as Kircher with the currents map, and published his map a few years later, though he was mainly a science popularizer who "relied" heavily upon the Kircher map and was nowhere near to being Kircher's intellectual rival, his map is still interesting given its very heavy lining and beauty.)
The original of this map is available at the blog's bookstore, here.
This is a detail of the larger map (below) with a East-West orientation for bottom-to-top, making the northern North American coastline along the top of the map, with the European coast from Spain to Denmark, and then hopping over to the Nordic countries, and of course with England and Ireland, and lonely Iceland.
There is a long history of portraying California as an island, and this may be one of the most obscure instances. The source is not known (though ca. mid/late 17th c), but it seems to me to be a depiction of Dutch East India Company medallions (depicting city views of Leyden, Harlem, and Breda), and the California map turns up on the reverse of one of them, as bottom. The original is only about 2.5" in diameter--here it is, enlarged:
Antonio de la Ascensíon is credited with first giving flight to the idea that the California Peninsula was in fact an island--and so, beginning in 1620, California would frequently make guest appearances on maps as an island. (Fray Antonio was born in Salamanca in 1573/4 and studied there and at the College of Pilots in Seville; he was ordained in the Order of Discalced Carmelites, and sent off to Mexico. As a cosmographer he accompanied Sebastian Vizcaino (1548-1624) on his expedition to California to find a good port for Spanish galleons coming from Manila, which is when Antonio produced his diaries with the famous island maps.) This map was created during a period where there was heavy competition for trade routes and geographical knowledge was actual currency, so there was some amount of cartographic information that was proprietary. When the abbot's map was lost to/and recovered by the Dutch, the changes that were made to California were codified and published--the Spanish thought it not necessary to correct the misinformation. Perhaps. In any event, it seems plausible that the Spanish crown had no interest in involving itself with what may or may not have been the loss of proprietary information, and so let the island business slide. Until1751, when the King of Spain issued a proclamation saying that California was indeed not an island.
This practice continued to about 1747, when there was more than ample evidence to suggest that the island status of California was erroneous--still, it took several decades for the last of the island-maps to make its appearance.
The full image (of the engraving, the original of which is available at the blog's bookstore, here.
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 (1769-18591) 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), and in which this map appears. 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 maps is available for sale at 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. Kosmos.
At first glance this detailed and dense map looks foreboding and somehow off-putting--at least for me, and that was before I understood what the numbers represented.
The blue numbers on this section of a larger map refer to soldiers killed on the battlefield of the 1916 Somme battlefield. It is the work of Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Messer (Assistant Director of Graves Registration and Enquiries in France), who undertook to record the crosses of the Fallen on the battlefield and register their location, and then to re-inter the bodies together in larger cemeteries.
[Source: John Hughes-Wilson, The First World War in 100 Objects, Firefly Books, 2014.]
What we are seeing here are pieces of four 6x6 grids (one complete and three partial) numbered (in red) 1-36, each one of these squares further subdivided into four section. Each larger square composed of 36 squares is 1000x1000 yards total, meaning that each one of the 36 subdivisions is about 166x166 yards, and each of the four segments of one smaller square is 83 yards. The blue numbers indicate a soldier killed on that field of battle which means that in the large 36-square "M" subdivision #18 that there were 210+29+372+17 fatalities, or 628 on a 166x166 yard field, or in one case 372 killed on a 83x83 yard plain. The deaths were even more intense on other areas of the field--in Square S #11 there were 749+207+234+126, or 1,416 deaths in that 166x166 yard field, and 749 on the 83x83 yard field. It is hard to visualize such loss. I picture a U.S. football field--there are 22 players on the field during play, and that seems to populate the area pretty well--casualties of 749 soldiers on a similar area would be nearly 35 times that, meaning that placed equidistantly and with a few feet on the sides they would cover the field. There are, what, 75 people on a football team? That means at the beginning of the game when all of the players and coaches and staff and cheerleaders and member of the band run out onto the field to take their places, they would all be dead--and then some. That is a lot of death.
According to the Imperial War Museum, temporary markers for fallen soldiers looked like this:
After the war the Imperial War Graves Commission replaced the wooden crosses with stone markers.
The wooden markers would then returned to the family.
JF Ptak Science Books Post 144 (from 2008) expanded
Understanding the Mississippi River was the skeleton key to understanding pre-Civil War America. There was really nothing else quite like it—the Ohio River and the attention paid it by Collot and others was of great importance to understanding the early far Western (east of the Mississippi River) adventures of Colonial and Post-Revolutionary America, as was the Missouri to early 19th century American exploration and settlement, but the Mississippi loomed over all. Like saying that Babe Ruth was a fabulous baseball player or that Richard Feynman was a brilliant physicist is a bland statement of the obvious—the understatement hollowing and becoming more brittle the more deeply their “records” are studied showing how truly incomparable they were—the Mississippi, “The Father of Waters”, is really the Big Deal in the history of the U.S.
And in spite of the fantastic maps made of river through the 18th and 19th centuries (like these gorgeous and iconic examples by John Senex in 1721 (A map of Louisiana and of the river Mississipi [i.e. Mississippi] : this map of the Mississipi [i.e. Mississippi] is most humbly inscribed to William Law of Lanreston, esq.) or Robert Sayer (Course of the river Mississippi, from the Balise to Fort Chartres; taken on an expedition to the Illinois, in the latter end of the year 1765. By Lieut. Ross of the 34th regiment:Improved from the surveys of that river made by the French. in 1772, or even Coloney & Fairchild’s Ribbon Map of the Father of Waters (below, a whopper, measuring in at 337 cm (and which was issued on a wooden spool for the use of travelers on board steamships moving along the river), there were very few that gave you an idea of the *history* of the river.
That was achieved in spectacular flourish by Harold Fisk (in the map above) in 1944 in his Geological Investigation of the Alluvial Valley of the Lower Mississippi River (U.S. Department of the Army, Mississippi River Commission, 78p)The map showed the very ghost trails of the river over time, and trying to show where it wasn’t was the great question. He tried to reveal the history of the valley by mapping and dating all physiological features of the river and tried to reconstruct the channel changes with what were to become speculative appreciation. Nevertheless, he did make a tremendous attempt at explaining the courses of the Mississippi over time by utilizing his own excellent maps and a little generative thought. This might not be the most accurate map of the courses of the Mississippi over time, but in 1944 it was really a spectacular achievement in cartography and general thought. And the thing was just drop-dead beautiful.
And another detail, from map 15, in the vicinity of Baton Rouge:
The full text is available here from the LSU library: http://biotech.law.lsu.edu/climate/mississippi/fisk/fisk.htm
For a very quick, elegant overview see Radical Cartography which has all 15 of the maps displayed at once, along with a key chart : http://www.radicalcartography.net/index.html?fisk
Also go to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers site and click on the "Fisk oversize" link in the left-hand "documents" column: http://lmvmapping.erdc.usace.army.mil/index.htm
Lloyd's new map of the Mississippi River from Cairo to its mouth:
[Source: Library of Congress, http://www.loc.gov/item/99447107/]
And the great "Ribbon map of the [Fa]ther of Waters.Created / PublishedSt. Louis, Mo. : Coloney & Fairchild, 1866":
(Very zoomable version here: http://www.loc.gov/resource/g4042m.ct000797/ The initial image comes up about 4mm wide (1)--don;t be discouraged, just start clicking away at the magnifier and it will zoom right in...)
I think that if you squinted your eyes a little to deform your visual field and then looked at this map of the Earth's ocean currents that what you might see is...Mars. At least that's what I can see if I concentrate on it, or at least the Mars of 1880 or thereabouts, with its large and blotchy seemingly mobile and ambiguous forms skirting around the planet.
"This map may be purchased at the blog's bookstore, here.
That said this map does represent a high achievement, displaying the elements of the still young-ish science of oceanography (or at least in the form presented by Matthew F. Maury) and showing the movements of the ocean currents.
This maps comes about a century after the first map to truly distinguish the Gulf Stream (the B. Franklin/Folger map of 1768-1785) and shows the remarkable activity that must have come with the acquisition of the data necessary to show on even this popular map. There were earlier attempts, of course, notably by the great/problematic Athanasium Kircher in his Mundus... of 1662 though his effort was largely theoretical (and for what it was worth likened the currents to something similar to blood moving though the body, which at least used the work of William Harvey) given the lack of available hard data. (Eberhard Happel is on a similar wavelength as Kircher with the currents map, and published his map a few years later, though he was mainly a science popularizer who "relied" heavily upon the Kircher map and was nowhere near to being Kircher's intellectual rival, his map is still interesting given its very heavy lining and beauty.)
In any event, the Houston map is clear and concise--and given its 7"x 9" size, remarkably compelling.
The idea of a global map1 of the winds was still something relatively new when this map was published in 1886. It represented a state-of-the-winds accomplishment and was published in the popular press--just a century earlier the idea of the completeness of a map of this sort for such a variable as The Wind was still of great speculation. But aside from the great scientific achievement of being able to display such enormous quantities of data in this way, the map has its artistic element, though almost all of this is done by the reader. For example, out-of-context this map depicts the delightfully- and disturbingly-named Equatorial Calms and Doldrums, Calm of Cancer, Calm of Capricorn, Zones of the Trades, Zones of the Variables (!), Zones of the Polar Winds, and Monsoon Regions.
This map is available for purchase via the blog's bookstore, here.
Really though this small (7" x 9") map is impressive for showing so very much big information in a small place: in addition to the poetic calms and doldrums, it shows areas of drizzle and fog, areas that have snow in spring and autumn, and the periodicity of rain.
It naturally shows trade routes (so dependent upon the winds) and then goes on to display prevailing winds and then to name some of the the important ones, including the Northers (central North America), Simoon (Arabian Peninsula), Sirocco (Mediterranean), Solano (Spain), Chamsin (Egypt), and Harmattan (West Africa).
It is a lovely map that becomes even more so the more closely you look at it.
1. "A world map from 1891 showing the distribution of the winds and rain, together with ocean routes", by Edwin J. Houston, and published in The Elements of Physical Geography (Philadelphia, PA: Eldredge & Brother, 1886). 7x9" Hand-colored lithograph.
"The color of the water on Mars appears then to be same as that of terrestrial water..." --Camille Flammarion, Scientific American Supplement, May 10, 1879, pp2787-2788
Image source: Google books, where the full text of the article is available. My own copy was simply too large for scanning.
The original weekly issue of Scientific American with this article is available for purchase via the blog bookstore, here.
I found this interesting map of Mars in the May 10, 1879 issue of the Scientific American Supplement. The partially-anonymous author straight-away makes a provocative claim,
"WHEN sixteen years ago I published the last edition my work The Plurality of Inhabited Worlds I did expect to see the speedy confirmation that the progress astronomy was to give to my essay by allowing us so speak to put our finger on the manifestations of life"
and then spends the rest of the article supporting the reinterpretation of Mars as another Earth.
This is hardly an early assumption of the provocative thought of life elsewhere in the universe--there are a number of authors who have written on the topic, and for hundreds of years prior to this. (Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds by the wicked-smart aesthete Bernard le Bovier de Fontanelle was published in 1686--the year before Newton's Principia--and elegantly argued for teh plurality of worlds and inhabited earth-like planets revolving around other stars, spread throughout the universe. Cyrano de Bergerac, Christian Huygens, J.J.L. Lalande--with an interesting Christian-based pluralist argument for not restricting the glory of the Creator's efforts to simply life here on Earth, and (later) David Brewster, each wrote convincingly on the prospect of extraterrestrial life.)
The author of this article turns out to be Camille Flammarion, an abundantly creative writer and observer, perhaps not so well known today as he should or could be, a sub-Verneian astronomer/publisher/writer whose ideas did not make it much past the nineteenth century. (And perhaps he or the editors at the Scientific American felt it unnecessary to identify him except by the title of one of his books because he was so very well known at that point, being the author of 70 books and all, and also for being perhaps the most talented of pop-science writers.) He does give us this map, though, and tries with a mighty effort to solidify the gauzy appearances of structure of the Martian surface. He honors astronomers with the continents and oceans that he sees, and is far more universal/multi-cultural in his acknowledgement of scientific accomplishment. Here we see the oceans Kepler and Newton, and seas of Hooke (somewhat surprisingly), and (Giacomo) Maraldi (Italian, 17th c), and Huggins, Maedler; and land masses of Copernicus, Galileo, Herschel, Cassini, Tycho, Laplace, Huygens. This version of the map comes 14 years after Proctor's first attempt at a Martian map1 (and evidently the first map of Mars with a precise nomenclature) and which itself came another 25 years after the first first map of Mars by Wilhelm Beer (1797-1850) and Johann Heinrich Mädler (1794-1874).
Flammarion makes a strong case for life on Mars even without evidence, or at most the scanty suggestion of scientific proof, which is perhaps one reason why his brand of scientific adventurism and speculation didn't survive into very much of the 20th century. Here are some examples from the article:
"Can there be red meadows and red forests up there? Can it be that trees with foliage offer a substitute there for our quiet and delightfully shaded woods and are our scarlet poppies typical of the botany of Mars?"
"Are we authorized create all these analogies? In reality we see only red green and white blotches on the little disk of this planet. Is the indeed terra firma is the green really water and is the indeed snow In a word is this truly a world like our own?"
The question is asked, and then answered immediately in the next paragraph:
"Yes! Now we are able to assert it. The appearance Mars varies constantly. White spots move about over disk too often modifying its apparent configuration spots can be nothing but clouds. The white spots at increase or diminish according to the seasons like our terrestrial circumpolar ice fields which would precisely the same aspect the same variations to an placed on Venus..."
Elsewhere in his Celestial Wonders, Flammarion writes: “The world of Mars is so much alike the world on Earth that, had we traveled thither someday and forgotten our route, it would be almost impossible for us to tell which of the two is our native planet. Without the Moon, which would mercifully relieve our incertitude, we would run the enormous risk of calling upon the natives of Mars while assuming we have landed in Europe or in some terrestrial neighborhood.”
1. The Proctor Map of Mars
[Source: Wiki, here. R.A. Proctor: Other Worlds than Ours. London, printed in 1870, page 94.]
The Proctor map was in turn based upon earlier work by Dawes:
[Source: Planetologia, http://planetologia.elte.hu/ipcd/proctor_1865.jpg And in general see this link for much more in-depth appreciation and history of the Proctor map.]
"Other maps are such shapes, with their islands and capes! But we've got our brave Captain to thank" (So the crew would protest) "that he's bought us the best- A perfect and absolute blank!"
So goes the fourth fit of the Bellman's tale in The Hunting of the Snark, featuring a map that I wrote about here, wondering about its absolute beauty of near total blankness.
No doubt this pair of hemispheric maps of the world--printed probably in the 1880's--were intended as instructionals, or primers, or to be used as outline maps to be filled-in and elaborated by students. Still, standing there out of context as Blank Maps, the have a certain appeal. They don't have the vigour and the energetic nothingness of the Lewis Carroll Bellman map, but they will have to do for now.
"For the paths of night and of day are near"--Odyssey, X 86.
Map of the Outer Geography of the Odyssey and the Form of the Earth According to Homer is a wonderful map of the creation of Homer (ca. before 900 BCE), across the Soundless Sea to the outer bounds of the paths of the oceans.
This map is available for purchase at our blog's bookstore, here.
A fine collection of ten other Homeric World maps can be found (with a lengthy essay) at Cartographic Images, here.
One of the favorite parts of map reading--especially for 19th century maps--is finding the small, add-on gems of represented data clinging to the sides of the main map, along the margins and in the corners. Although this map by W. and A.K. Johnstons in itself a fine work of art and displays some knotty and previously hard-to-com-by data, the two bits at teh bottom of the map just give the overall project a deep lustre. Alexander Keith Johnston (1804 - 1871) came to this task via the suggestion of Alexander von Humboldt, the results of his own phenomenal research and exploration finding their way into Johnston's atlas.
The original map may be purchased via our blog bookstore, here.
This version of "The Mountain Chains of Europe and Asia" is found in the second edition of the Johnston's The Physical Atlas - A series of maps & illustrations of the Geographical Distribution of Natural Phenomena embracing I. Geology II. Hydrography III. Meteorology IV. Natural History, published in 1856 (following the first edition of 1850).
Each of the small inset measures about 1"x1.5" in the detail of the following:
Some contemporary notices on the Johnston Atlas:
"For the first time, in this country, the principles of graphic representation are here applied to the delineation of the most important facts of external phenomena. Simple but significant symbolical signs have been introduced to an extent, and with an effect, hitherto never contemplated. The contents of the many volumes, formerly the sole depositories of information regarding the different kingdoms of nature, have been condensed and reproduced with a conciseness, precision, completeness, and promptitude of application altogether unattainable by any other agency."--from a longer description for the atlas found at Chest of Books, here.
"This splendid volume will fill a void long felt in this country, where no work has been attainable presenting the results of the important science of Physical Geography in a distinct and tangible form. "--Forgotten Books (here)