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Posts Tagged ‘bubonic plague

“A map is the greatest of all epic poems”*…

 

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A marmot hiding in plain sight in the Swiss Alps

 

Errors—both accidental and deliberate—are not uncommon in maps (17th-century California as an island, the omission of Seattle in a 1960s AAA map). Military censors have long transformed nuclear bunkers into nondescript warehouses and routinely pixelate satellite images of sensitive sites. Many maps also contain intentional errors to trap would-be copyright violators. The work of recording reality is particularly vulnerable to plagiarism: if a cartographer is suspected of copying another’s work, he can simply claim to be duplicating the real world— ideally, the two should be the same. Mapmakers often rely on fictitious streets, typically no longer than a block, to differentiate their accounts of the truth (Oxygen Street in Edinburgh, for example).

But there is another, less institutional reason to hide something in a map. According to Lorenz Hurni, professor of cartography at ETH Zurich, these illustrations are part inside joke, part coping mechanism. Cartographers are “quite meticulous, really high-precision people,” he says. Their entire professional life is spent at the magnification level of a postage stamp. To sustain this kind of concentration, Hurni suspects that they eventually “look for something to break out of their daily routine.” The satisfaction of these illustrations comes from their transgressive nature— the labor and secrecy required to conceal one of these visual puns…

Slipping one past one of the most rigorous map-making institutions in the world: “For Decades, Cartographers Have Been Hiding Covert Illustrations Inside of Switzerland’s Official Maps.”

* Gilbert H. Grosvenor (President of the National Geographic Society, first editor of the magazine, and champion of cartography [and photojournalism])

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As we hide Easter eggs, we might recall that it was on this date in 1345– according to 14th century scholars at the University of Paris– the Black Death was created… from what they called “a triple conjunction of Saturn, Jupiter and Mars in the 40th degree of Aquarius, occurring on the 20th of March, 1345.”

AKA the Pestilence, the Great Bubonic Plague, the Great Plague, the Plague, or less commonly the Great Mortality or Black Plague, the Black Death was actually transmitted by fleas who had fed on diseased rats.  It killed an estimated 75 to 200 million people in Eurasia, peaking in Europe from 1347 to 1351.

More on “the greatest catastrophe ever.”

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Spread of the Black Death in Europe and the Near East (1346–1353)

source

 

Written by LW

March 20, 2020 at 1:01 am

“The fact is that no species has ever had such wholesale control over everything on earth, living or dead, as we now have”*…

 

From the always-amazing Randall Munroe, who reminds us that bacteria still outweigh us thousands to one– and that’s not counting the pounds of them in each of our bodies…

* “The fact is that no species has ever had such wholesale control over everything on earth, living or dead, as we now have. That lays upon us, whether we like it or not, an awesome responsibility. In our hands now lies not only our own future, but that of all other living creatures with whom we share the earth.” 
― David AttenboroughLife on Earth

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As we watch our weight, we might send carefully-calculated birthday greetings to John Graunt; he was born on this date in 1620.  A London haberdasher by trade, Graunt was fascinated the human tide that swelled around him– a fascination that led him to create the first statistically-based estimation of the population of London in his book Natural and Political Observations Made upon the Bills of Mortality, undertaken as Charles II and other officials were trying to create a system to warn of the onset and spread of bubonic plague in the city.  Profiled as one of Aubrey’s Brief Lives, Graunt has been called the first statistician, the first demographer, and was in any case the first statistician to become a fellow of the Royal Society of London.

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Written by LW

April 24, 2014 at 1:01 am

Her Majesty’s Rat-Catcher…

 

Biblical Egypt had its plague of locusts, modern New York City is terrorized by bedbugs, and Victorian London had a serious rat problem. Rats scurried around the city chewing up food, clogging up drains, passing around diseases, and frightening ladies. The task of reining in the rodents fell to village farmers (desperate to save the gnawed legs of their livestock) and rat vigilantes who killed for commission or provided rats for popular dog and rat matches.

And then there was the rat’s most notorious enemy: Jack Black, Rat-Catcher to Her Majesty The Queen…

Read the extraordinary story of this scourge of rodentkind at Lapham’s Quarterly.

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As we shriek “eek!”, we might spare a thought for Kitasato Shibasaburo; he died on this date in 1931.  A physician and bacteriologist, Shibasaburo discovered (essentially simultaneously with Alexandre Yersin) the bacterium Pasteurella pestis (now called Yersinia pestis), the infectious agent of bubonic plague.  Shibasaburo was also the first to grow a pure culture of the tetanus bacillus.

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Written by LW

June 13, 2013 at 1:01 am

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