A Daily History of Holes, Dots, Lines, Science, History, Math, the Unintentional Absurd & Nothing |1.6 million words, 7000 images, 3.5 million hits| Press & appearances in The Times, The Paris Review, Le Figaro, The Economist, The Guardian, Discovery News, Slate, Le Monde, Sci American Blogs, Le Point, and many other places...
I've seen figures supporting 20 million people being "displaced" in the month following the end of WWII. That figure has always seemed very low to me, considering the destruction and ravage--I thought that there might be half that number in the USSR alone. In any event, "displaced" seems like such a polite word for something that is anything but that. In browsing a volume for the second half of 1945 I found a photograph with a picture within it of something that might characterize what being "displaced" might actually be--and this is a more "civilized" displacement of a man on a train, not one of the hundreds of thousands of concentration camp survivors, who were considered to be "displaced persons" as well. That "DP" tag has always rung wrong with me.
We're talking about JJ's Ulysses, not the older one.
Miles L. Hanley performed an enormous and exacting (!) task of providing a word census for this first-among-the-Modernists novel. Joyce used 250,000-odd words to take Mr. Bloom around Dublin that day, 30,000 or so of them different1.
Hanley's very precise pre-spreadsheet undertaking was done in a year, somehow, and published in 1937.
What he and his team of 20 or so did was this: working from the Randomn House edition (the most democratic of the editions at that time and the most accessible to the largest reading audience), he/they typed out each word on a miniature index card (above) and recorded the page and line in the text in which the word occurred. The cards were specially designed and pre-pasted so that they could be linked together inb long lines and then stored afterwards in six long wooden trays. At the end of the day there were some 220,000 of these little cards, each of which was checked and double-checked and edited and re-edited and then everything proof-read and then so again. There was a LOT of small work in this procedure, but it is in the small work that the greatest of this undertaking happened.
Among many other things that Hanley recorded was the equipment and production expense, which totaled $148 for the project, most of which was spent of 250,000 1.5x2.5" cards (which cost $100). There are two dozen pages of introduction and explanation of process, as well as about the same number in the appendix (which is interesting and useful)--there is basically nothing that is contributed for interpretation, or what any of the word usage/occurrence/frequency/rarity and so on might mean. That was certainly another project.
I must say that this was an extremely sharp operation, well-planned and directed, and done in sort of no time at all. Simply impressive.
The first edition of the work is relatively rare (it went through a number of editions and iterations and reprintings), and the one I have in front of me now is from the Library of Congress via the Copyright Office. It is always troubling to say that something is "rare" and then have two of them, which is the case here--not only that, but both are from the Copyright Office, and (excitingly!) they have their original carbon cards of their LC card catalog cards tucked in. Pretty cool.
1. Word count is complicated, and inlcudes plurals and other variations of the same word. Suffice to say that it is around 30,000. Or 33,000.
[Detail from one of the earliest images of holes made by insects? From Reaumur, citation following.]
There are many different ways of looking at antique (or any other) scientific images. Sometimes you see exactly what they're supposed to be showing, and other times the viewer sees something more. Sometimes this "something more" is useful, and sometimes it is simply a side bit, not adding to the understanding of the image content, but curious nonetheless, useful in other ways.
And so is the case with this miniature/micro observation of this engraving which appears in the great work on the lives of insects by René-Antoine Ferchault de Réaumur: Memoires pour servir a l'histoire des insectes, which was printed in six impressive volumes (some 26cm tall) in Paris from 1734 through at least 1742, illustrated throughout with 269 engraved plates, many depicting more than one subject. This was the masterwork of its time on insects, a great effort made and achieved on insect architecture, biology, and behavior--it was a careful and exacting work, magisterial. Reaumur (1683-1757) was an exceptional talent and observer, writing for the Academie des Sciences on a really wide variety of subjects for over fifty years--and even with this large output, most of his work was delivered posthumously to the Academy.
My attention was drawn to him from an illustration in Barbara Maria Stafford's Good Looking, Essays on the Virtue of Images (MIT, 1996, palte 93), which depicted the holes made by moths in cloth in volume 3 of the Memoires. The first image, above, is a detail from the Reaumur engraving, with the full plate, following:
[Reaumur, Memoires pour servir a l'histoire des insectes... volume III, from the Internet Archive, here.]
The series on this blog concentrating on the history of holes may or may not make any contribution to anything at all, save for perhaps serving as an outpost on looking at images from a different perspective.
And just for good measure, here's an image of the ghost of the image of the mothy hole, an image imprinted on the page opposite the page on which the original image was printed, the ghosted mirror image of the hole captured in an ink/iron impression on paper.
Here are the links for the six volumes of Reamur's Memoires:
Mémoires pour servir à l'histoire des insectes (1734-1742)
Tome I : Sur les Chenilles et les Papillons, Imprimerie royale, Paris, 1734, 654 p., 50 pl. ;
Tome II : Suite de l'Histoire des Chenilles et des Papillons et l'Histoire des Insectes ennemis des Chenilles, Imprimerie royale, Paris, 1736, 514 p., 38 pl. ;
Tome III : Histoire des Vers mineurs des feuilles, des Teignes, des fausses Teignes, des Pucerons, des ennemis des Pucerons, des faux Pucerons et l'Histoire des Galles des Plantes et de leurs Insectes, Imprimerie royale, Paris, 1737, 532 p., 478 pl. ;
Tome IV : Histoire des Gallinsectes, des Progallinsectes et des Mouches à deux ailes, Imprimerie royale, Paris, 1738, 636 p., 44 pl. ;
Tome V : Suite de l'Histoire des Mouches à deux ailes et Histoire de plusieurs Mouches à quatre ailes, savoir des Mouches à Scies, des Cigales et des Abeilles, Imprimerie royale, Paris, 1740, 728 p., 44 pl. ;
Tome VI : Suite de l'Histoire des Mouches à quatre ailes avec un supplément des Mouches à deux ailes, Imprimerie royale, Paris, 1742, 608 p., 48 pl. ;
Tome VII : Histoire des fourmis, Paul Lechevalier éditeur, Paris, 1928, 116 p. & Histoire des scarabées, Paul Le Chevalier éditeur, Paris, 1955, 340 p., 21 pl.
JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post Part of Zoomology Series
In a moment of levity at the end of WWI, these sailors from America and the U.K. and France got together for a bit, and turned their little doggie mascot into a small attraction of sorts, entertaining themselves and the small curious crowd surrounding tthem. The photograph was made anonymously by the Western Newspaper Union and is stamped "British Official Photograph", and published on 10 October 1918.
Which is a delightful detail from this:
And this intriguing woman, who appears in the upper right corner:
JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post Part of the Zoomology series
There's a ew digital player at the Wellcome Library, the home of a renowned collection in the history of medicine, though it covers more than that, being "one of the world's richest and most unique collections, with themes
ranging from medical and social history to contemporary healthcare and
biomedical science" (from their site).
Using their new zoom tool I was able to get great detail from this 19th century sumo wrestling woodblock, and save it easily:
JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post Part of the Zoomology series
This is a quick follow-up to an earlier post on Solomon Butcher in which there two two photographic images that are clearly "manufactured"--one is created in the darkroom (simply adding trees in a tress-less landscape), while the other (below) is an unlabelled recreation of an event. This is in the lines of Timothy O'Sullivan and Matthew Brady dressing up their images a bit by posing the dead or giving them added bits (like muskets and so on) to enliven the picture. This one though is entirely theatre--as it happens there are very few 19th century photographs depicting a crime-in-progress. Butcher just decided to show his audience what the crime probably looked like. In any event if not for a little Zoomology the scene could've perhaps passed for real.
This is a detail from the full-plate glass negative, printed out so:
Without the enlargement it is difficult to tell what sort of instruments the ranchers were holding. But up close the wire cutters are simply suggestions of that too, being made of wood and all.
When Solomon Butcher laid his head down on his final pillow he evidently thought of himself as a half-failure. His work as a photographer in a life full of travel through the Great Plains lead to not-much-"success" save for one book1, and his work wasn't recognized for the impact that it would have in the decades to come. Perhaps he wondered if his ways were all worth it, hauling his family and his enormously heavy collection of full-plate glass negatives from one house to the next. Of course that would change in death--not the money part, but certainly the recognition. His photographs are outstanding glimpses into late 19th century American frontier life, and especially so for the work he did making images of families and their belongings in the long rolling landscape of pioneer Nebraska.
not sure exactly what Solomon Butcher told his subjects when he photographed them
outside of their frontier houses out there in the Great
Plains in the 1880’s. His spectacular
portraits included not only the family of the house, but in many cases, everything
that the family owned. Possessions were
encumbrance making your way across the country in the mid/19th century,
especially if you didn’t have very many to begin with. These families—the first generation in their
mostly sod-built houses—would’ve been farmers scratching out a minimum trade
and decent subsistence. City/town goods
would’ve been not-usual in these circumstances, and evidently whatever it was
they had of these things wound up outside, displayed around the house and on
the roof, when Mr. Butcher arrived in his photographer’s wagon.
was it, I wonder, who came up with the initial idea of displaying the
family’s possessions: did Butcher set
out with that idea, or did it happen spontaneously? I wonder what it was the families thought as
Butcher was packing up his equipment, his horse fed, his cameras stowed away,
climbing up onto the driver’s bench. Did
they wait until he was a spot on the horizon to put away their things? Did they gather everything up as Butcher
gathered up his own material, or did they just wait for the stranger to
disappear before pulling the family back together? Sitting their surrounded by
the things that they owned, did these families feel a quiet pride, or were they
embarrassed have their pictures made together with their frontier opulence?)
There's much to look at in these images, and the Nebraska Historical Society does a very good job at it here, espcially when they work at some digital magic, making some of the disappeared stuff that lurks in the shadows of the interiors of the cabins appear. What is of interest to me today are the sunburns--this issue was brought up yesterday in another post on the invention of the satirical photograph, where the self-portrait shows a man with heavily sunned face and hands, the marks of a working man with dark settling on light becomes a little remarkable.
This is seen in Butcher's photographs from time-to-time. In the series of photographs of homesteads, he often captured images of men without hats--seldom the case, I guess, in the normal routine of a day. The men's faces are deeply tanned except for where the hat is pulled down to the middle of their forehead, where we see a much lighter complexion:
Which makes sense, of course, since these were pioneers and farmers, and working pretty much all of the time outdoors.
I remember being surprised the first few times I noticed this, and then not so. This is much like seeing all of those non-smiling photographic portraits of the 19th century and wondering about the sombreness, when the general explanation for the seriousness was far simpler: given the length of time for an exposure, it was took simply too much effort to hold the same smile for a minute or three, and so the rigid face became a necessity. The brands of the faces of these men was there simply because they wore hats outdoors doing hard work in the High Plains sun.
There's a world going on in these photographs, but for right now I'm just looking at faces.The Library of Congress site has an excellent collection of this images online, and there's a lot of micro-photo inspection to be done.
Another example, here:
Which is a detail from: (Source: The Library of Congress, "Rev. and Mrs. E.D. Eubank on Clear Creek west of Lee Park, Custer County, Nebraska".)
JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post Part of the Zoomology series
From the photography collection at the Library of Congress, offering deep and big graphic files. The file photograph looked interesting, but on closer inspection the magnificent central figure is revealed:
"Chain gang of convicts engaged in road work. Pitt County, North
Carolina. Autumn 1910. The inmates were quartered in the wagons shown in
the picture. Wagons were equipped with bunks and move from place to
place as labor is utilized. The central figure in the picture is J.Z.
McLawhon, who was at that time county superintendent of chain gangs. The
dogs are bloodhounds used for running down any attempted escapes."
This is a continuation of sort of this morning's post, "Massive 500-Daguerreotype Mosaic", though this one concentrates on the sumptuous ruination and decay that has occurred within and to some of these photographic images. I've looked closely at only five of these images, and within each of these five images there are five more. And, if you manipulated the largest downloadable file of these (which range up to about 150 megs), there are five more within the five within the five. And all that before you start to imagine the artistic fantasies int he non-representational forms, and that before adding color. So five is all that will be here, for the present.
JF Ptak Science Books Post 1737 (Expanding post #850, On Dropping Your Hat in the Punic Wars)
There is a particular class of illustration in which, among the secondary figures of the image, there is a small happening, an everyday trifle, that has been captured by the artist and included in the overall communication for no necessary reason. (for example, see here and below1). I’ve written about this a little before on this blog in posts about finding images-within-images: the unecessaries among the unnecessaries, the bits and pieces of everyday human existence that in and of itself is not worth commentary but which nearly everyone experiences.Small bits, they are, of a tremendous human nature, the things that are done in private, or are so universal but inconsequential that they are shocking to see when illustrated in print.
Titus Livius (59 BCE-17 ACE), better known to the English-speaking world as Livy, was a superior among superiors of Roman historians, writing on the history of his city and country.His work, Romische Historie…, published in Mainz by Johann Schoeffler 1450 years later in 1514, was one of the most beautifully illustrated books ever produced in that city. This is a considerable statement, as Mainz was the birthplace/hotbed of moveable type printing, being home to Johann Gutenberg and a number of other early presses.
And in looking at this fantastic work by Livy, I am a little embarrassed to find this spectacular bit of human tendency displayed in this woodcut depicting a naval engagement during the Punic Wars.It is a beautiful thing, this scene of warfare depicted on tranquil seas and ribbony waves, determination in every face.But what I noticed in the small boat at bottom right is a man reaching out into the water—not for a dropped oar, or to help a man overboard, or to catch his falling sword.
He was reaching for his dropped hat.
I have reason to doubt that during the Punic Wars there may have been an unwritten chapter, “On the History of Dropped Hats During Warfare”.Surely soldiers dropped their hats during the history of roman conquest, but I’d say that retrieving the headgear was more important at the Battle of the Bulge in protecting your noggin from badly splintering trees traveling at you at 180 mph and other such places than a wool cap dropped from a ship in pitched battle two hundred meters from shore.
I like this so because it is probably the first reaction that most of us would have—just a habit, battle raging or not—and just utterly human.Just a little piece of back-history that doesn’t go anywhere and is lost to experience.I’m sure that Herr Gutenberg dropped his hat at odd times, as did the unknown artist of this print.Just an odd bit, like the first things printed on Gutenberg’s press being religious indulgences for people paying their way past Purgatory (and worse).The fact that the indulgences preceded the great bible by several years doesn’t really matter, and neither does retrieving a dropped hat in a sea battle—but they do make interesting stories.
The only thing that I'd rather have the artist improve in this print were the waves--the ones on exhibit here weren't very saucy. Admittedly, waves were a large problem so far as depicting them goes, what with the whole vast subject of fluid dynamics so little known at the time. THe person who would know this phenomenon best at this point--Leonardo--was thinking and working but wasn't sharing. His "Studies of water Formations” (c. 1507-09)? and the later, magnificent “Deluge” (1513, nearly the year of publication of the above) would stay hidden for centuries, the big step forward in the West having to wait for another 120 and 140 years (respectively) for the works of Benedetto Castelli, and Evangelista Torricelli,
This aside, I think that I'd rather see heavier lines in my Renaissance waves, more in line with we find in Publius Virgilius Maro Oper accuratissime castigata..., a richly illustrated (104 large woodcuts) work published in 1537, even though the artwork (evidently) appeared in an earlier edition of 1502. No matter, "The Master of Grueninger's Workshop" created some beautiful waves:
There's nothing "wrong" of course with the Livy waves; the Virgil though has sharper, darker, blacker and stronger contrasts in the water. Of course, the Livy has that incredibly human act of the man reaching for his fallen hat int he heat of battle, and that's something that rarely seems to happen in prints of the Renaissance.
[Detail from the image immediately below, the small scene immediately in the foreground.]
Images hold selective secrets for different people of divergent interests. Sitting through a motion picture, for example, shows a series of still images flashed before us—in a single scene people bring to bear their own ways of experience and observation. A forensic pathologist will see things shown within their specialty different from someone with a chemical explosives background who will see a bomb differently from an ER doc who would respond to an emergency room differently from a bookseller who might notice in the scene that the paperback edition of a Tree Grows in Brooklyn being read by an American G.I. in 1944 didn’t exist yet, and so on. A single image can hold a tremendous variety of depth and interpretation depending on the observers’ perspective.
Most of the time when I look at prints now I am looking at the extraneous “stuff” that is used as filler to the print’s purpose. I’ve written about this a few times earlier in this blog under the (bad) general title of Prints—Looking HARD at…), and I find the uncommitted art just fascinating, sort of like “loose”, unnecessary snapshots of common life, everyday life, of people walking by. The two prints today that I stumbled upon have a particular interest—they depict semi-hidden children in the foreground-filling detritus of the architectural marvel that is the subject of the artwork. Children really don’t appear too terribly often in art from 1500-1850, so it is especially interesting to look really hard at these prints and pick out the kids and what they were doing.
Of course this begs the question of “why?”—why would the artist bother with such detail in the foreground, let alone bring children into the picture?
The first image is the gorgeous Cambridgeshire Medieval cathedral at Ely. This is an engraving showing the north west view of the cathedral, and it is of course grand and imposing. The curious foreground shows a somewhat dilapidated-looking cemetery, and looking further still we see two men digging a grave, and to the right of them, a small child, seemingly pointing and reading a gravestone. What an unusual detail this is, what with it occupying less than 1% of the area of the image in general.
The second image (above) shows the façade of the Town Hall at Cologne. Of the twenty or so people in the street in front of the building, four are children (there’s also a pair of fighting/playing dogs). One of the miniatures scenes seems to show a boy in a “pick me up” pose. To the right of this is another, odder, scene, showing a woman—possibly a street food peddler—with her two boys(?), the children kneeling in front of a gentleman who is in turn leaning against a pillar of the Town Hall. What the boys are doing is a mystery, as is the intention of the artist in including them. .
Unfortunately these "microscope" studies reveal only the basic forms of the semi-hidden, and really don’t ever seem to offer us a reason as to why they were preserved. Presently I’m happy enough to just recognize them and appreciate their small saved existence.
There's a track on this blog located in the feebly-named category "Looking Closely/Deeply at Prints" were tiny bits and pieces of engraved artwork are exhumed for closer story, like passing a paper microscope over the image to draw out the semi-invisible and show the secret life of prints. Often what this entails is some very curious work by the artist and/or the engraver as they sought to spice up a rudimentary architectural assessment of Salisbury Cathedral, or the town hall in Munich, or some sort of ruin in Surrey, or a street scene along old Broadway in NYC--and they would do this sometimes by including something artful and small, and completely unnecessary to the primary image on which they were working.
See this post for a good example (with other links) of this.
So, instead of having a few people in the street outside of Cathedral X to show the building to some sort of scale, the artist/engraver might include in their very tiny detail images of children fighting, or a legless beggar, or a pocket-thief, or a tripping aristocrat. Or a man rounding a corner with a baby coffin on his shoulder.
What happens here then is an intended-unintentional, sort of like an 18th century snapshot of Something that captures stuff of the daily grind in the process--and as it happens it is this stuff, the activities and the people doing the mundane chores of the 18th century that turn out to be the very interesting bits of the artwork. After all, it was this sort of invisible activity that would tend not to be preserved in artwork or other visual documentation--but here it is, locked away in an architectural appreciation of some building Y in some city Z. And we are lucky for the contrivances of those long-asleep artisans.
But the Zoomology posts are something a little different than this--they simply are a deep observation of an interesting detail in an antiquarian print or photograph that shows an artwork in and of itself, a sort of descending fractal of appreciation. And simple.
The first sample in this quick-posting category is the sea anemone, or Zoophyte (old school classification), that we see in this series of images (above and below) from the great and prolific Abraham Rees (who must have had a team Rees, a group of scholars like the Bourbaki who worked together mostly anonymously save for the (in this case real) man whose name is given credit for the entire work) and engraved in 1813. The image in question is a flustra bombycina, a Verme (according to the obsolete Linnaen taxonomy), and it just called out for deeper inspection: