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
I just started reading Nikolaus Wachsmann's KL, a History of the Nazi Concentration Camps, published this year by Farrar, Straus, Giroux, a daunting and promising 864-page overview/history of the Nazi killing complexes. The very first thing I found when I opened the book--incredibly--was this map, showing the satellite camps supporting Buchenwald. "Just" Buchenwald. It was shocking.
I knew about the support camps, but I must say I never knew how many, how so many, there were of them. Evidently, according to Prof. Wachsmann, there were more than 77 satellite camps for Dachau main camp, and that overall there were probably around 560 (page 464). This was completely unexpected.
I'll report further on this book when I actually read it--for the moment, though, I wanted to share this devastating map.
[Please be aware that there were 75 blog posts and another 30,000 words made on this blog in June, 2015--check them out by going to the Recent Posts block at right]
Meat, seaweed, "beef fluid", corn, pasta, spices, shrimp, bananas--have all served as a bases for the construction of maps--not maps of _____-producing areas, but the maps themselves being made of the actual thing (or image of it) itself. Antique examples of this semi-anti-accomplishment are tough to find, with the Moderns being a little more common (as we can see on the Time magazine site, the background of the maps being negatives of antiquarian maps).
And so I just had to stop and collect up this image found on Flickr of the rectifying and emboldening Bovril "fluid beef" holding up the world, like an Atlas constructed of water and suspended beef-ish squeezings, which is a lot less appetizing than the original myth. I can't think offhand of another atlas-like entity made of meat-things holding up the world.
I do not know what the land mass is off the African west coast, except that it shouldn't be there. Probably it was supposed to be a too-close South America.
Also I should point out that the idea for constructing non-food things from food does go back a long way--there are numerous sculptural items in art and architecture that employ food/foodbits going back many century. The most famous of these maps, I guess, is the semi-magnificent The Porcineograph, produced by the Forbes Lithographic Manufacturing Company of Boston in 1876 or so, which defines the states and territories of the U.S. in terms of their regional foods.
And before proceeding any further, I must at least make reference to another master in this field, an earlier, perhaps revolutionary figure (without producing a revolution), Giuseppe Arcimboldo (also spelled Arcimboldi; 1527-1593), who painted (in his non-conventional works) fantastic portraits and images using fruits, vegetables and other natural objects as the sole source of representation. On the other hand his influence may not have been so very well known, as many of his works were stolen during war time in the mid-17th century, and he fell rather deeply into obscurity until being revived and resurrected by the Surrealists in the 20th century.
Also in a nearby carrot patch lives some of the work of Nicolas de Larmessin (1640-1725)--an enormously creative and productive artist--who in his way created a genre similar to the great and ancient Dance of Death/.Danse Macabre/Totentanz--though his was the Dance of Life, and in some cases he used mostly food to construct and decorate his portraits.
There are more of these examples, to be certain, but that's all there is time for today. It is probably some sort of bona fide sub genre, although not a big one, and even there it may all be invisible.
The "Pantography of Modern History" packs a lot of information into a relatively small space, surveying a good chunk of the history of the West from the year 14 to 1800. (It is very similar and may be a pirated English version of a French effort that I describe in this post, earlier on this blog.) The sheets are 16x20" making the full pantography 32x20" or so--I reckon that there are about 1000 data points on the four square feet or so of paper. There are some descriptions of events but most of the effort is keeping the ruling heads in order. This version is a little easier to follow than the French because the design is somewhat sparser, making the bits easier to discern.
I'm a big fan of this sort of data display.
Published in Lavoisne's Complete ....Geographical Atlas, printed by J. Barfield, 1815. "Pantography of Modern History. Or, a Description of the relative Situations of the States and Sovereigns of Europe, during the first Ten Centuries of the Christian Era" Accompanied by "... from the Beginning of the Eleventh Century to the Year 1828".
The "frontier" in the history of the U.S. West is a pretty big deal, and old, the academic concept of the frontier pressing its way back 13 decades, when for the most part once it was introduced it was pronounced to be "closed" by the man who reinterpreted it, Frederick Jackson Turner1. On my shelves alone there are books on the mining frontier, the mineral frontier, the transportation frontier, the Indian frontier, the military frontier,the farming frontier, and so on, divisions allotted by wealth, nationality, numerous geographical attributes, and the like. One thing I think that I have not seen was the Nothing Frontier, where there are divisions divided by, well, sort of "nothing". This is mostly a prosaic statement, slightly poetical, dependent on visual clues. And of course there isn't "nothing" there because there is always "something"--there just isn't very much of it. And when things get colored-coded on map depending upon percentage distributions, and that object of measurement is left to a null color or no color at all, then it appears that the divisions one left to nothing.
[The image above is very expandable.]
This can be seen if you squint somewhat you can see an example of it in plate 26, "Proportion of Population in Cities and Towns of More than 2000 Inhabitants..." Statistical Atlas, prepared under the Supervision of Henry Gannett (Geographer of the the Twelfth Census), printed in Washington by the U.S. Census Bureau, 1903. This map--which is part of an historic series of atlases published with U.S. census data--shows the distribution of urban population in five shades of brown (as seen in the legend) plus a blueish color for "no urban population" as well as no color ("The allowance of color indicates an aggregate population of less than 2 inhabitants to a square mile").
It is that absence of color that makes it a frontier-ish sort of frontier, a part of the Made Up Frontier, this one being very straightforward north/south, Big Bend to Montana, pretty much the Lonesome Dove trail from the rough Big Bend Texas to nearly Canada.
I know it is just a thing I made up just now looking at the map, but given some effort, maybe the idea actually has some legs.
1. Turner, Frederick Jackson. The Frontier in American History, Harvard University, 1920, full text via Project Gutenberg, http://www.gutenberg.org/files/22994/22994-h/22994-h.htm
Sometimes maps have an unusual ability they can Maps can record human achievement and anti-achievement and show human impact on the environment and vice versa, which is standard, especially if you can see a little deeply into it. Sometimes though there are the little bits--extras--that find their way onto the paper that opens a window to the emotional involvement of people and space, added by the artist or engraver or whoever it might be that last touches the plate before prints are made from it.
This certainly seems to be the case in this cross-section of tough New Mexico earth.
That little adobe building represents the Dona Ana Land Grant back in 1855, when those pioneers had a few decades of roots in the very hot ground there in New Mexico, across from the Rio Bravo, commanding the Mesilla Valley. In the original print, published in the great U.S. Pacific Railroad Survey1 in 1855, the structure is only about 3mm long--very easy to miss until you start looking closely at the sheet, which itself is only 2x2.5 cigarettes high and wide.
I thought the structure had a personality, and looked stolid, strong, and maybe even proud with its long fluttering banner, sitting there in the heights above the river, a strong place perched at the edge of the Jornada del Muerto ("The Dead Man's Journey" or more prosaically and according to Mr. McMurtry, "The Dead Man's Walk")
1. The full title of the eight-volume publication, which was an exhaustive treatment of the U.S. west from the mud below to the birds above, Reports of Explorations and Surveys to Ascertain the Most Practicable and Economical Route for a Railroad from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean Made Under the Direction of the Secretary of War, which was published by the U.S. government from 1853-6.
The "Impending battle" here in the sub-head of this issue of the New York Herald that I picked up recently was Chickamauga.
I doubt many knew what was coming.
The map fills the entire front of the paper and is 24 impressive inches tall. It moves from the Clinch River east across Greeneville/Knoxville to Asheville, then south to Milledgeville, and across the state west nearly to Alabama, and north to Atlanta, west to Rome, and then north again to Dalton and Chickamauga.
General Rosecrans had made his move south-east days before, and the battle was actually engaged the day before, on the 18th; on the 20th, it would be over, Bragg and the Confederates with a major victory that would be overturned in the next two months by U.S. Grant. There were more than 36,000 casualties on this field of battle, the second highest amount of the Civil War next to Gettysburg that occurred two months earlier.
The main object in this engraving--the presentation of two globes, one terrestrial and one celestial--is perhaps less interesting than secondary figures accompanying it. The two small insets of solar and lunar eclipses are instructive and pretty, while the compass rose is full and surprisingly stubby, making that example fairly uncommon--and much more attractive when isolated and cleaned up a bit. So too for the rudimentary but elegant comparison of the sizes of the planets compared to the Sun that surrounds the celestial globe--again, isolated and defined, the image is striking.
The original map is available here at the blog's bookstore.
"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.