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Posts Tagged ‘exploration

“Whose maps are we trying to read? And what are we trying to draw?”*…

 

A map of the South China Sea, with competing territorial claims marked

Maps are complicated in the current geopolitical climate—especially emblazoned across your torso. What is perfectly acceptable in Vietnam can get you stopped at Chinese border control, and vice versa.

Recently, US clothing retailer Gap apologized for printing a t-shirt that didn’t include China’s claimed territories, including Taiwan, South Tibet, and islands in the South China Sea. In doing so, it joined Marriott and Delta, which had previously triggered Beijing’s ire for maps-related issues. At the same time, a group of Chinese tourists to Vietnam generated outrage by showing up at a Vietnamese airport wearing t-shirts with a Chinese map including parts of Vietnam…

Even the United Nations’s world map openly states that the represented borders aren’t necessarily officially recognized (the map specifically calls out Kashmir and the Falkland Islands as disputed territories.) It also notes that although Taiwan was a UN founding member, it left the organization in 1971, and the UN recognizes China’s sovereignty over it…

And so the image above: “Here’s a t-shirt you could wear everywhere in East Asia without upsetting anyone.”

* Rebecca Solnit

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As we ponder geopolitical presumption, we might send pioneering birthday greetings to Henry Bradford Washburn, Jr.; he was born on this date in 1910.  An explorer, mountaineer, photographer, and cartographer, he established the Boston Museum of Science, served as its director from 1939–1980, and from 1985 until his death served as its Honorary Director.

In 1940, he married fellow explorer Barbara Polk; on their honeymoon in Alaska, they made the first ascent of Mt. Bertha.  Seven years later, they climbed Denali (Mt. McKinley), an ascent that made her the first female to reach the peak.

Bradford and Barbara atop Mt. McKinley, Alaska, June 6, 1947

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“Wonder is the beginning of wisdom”*…

 

Depiction of a Dragon featured in Mundus Subterraneus

Just before Robert Hooke’s rightly famous microscopic observations of everything from the “Edges of Rasors” to “Vine mites” appeared in Micrographia in 1665, the insatiably curious and incredibly prolific Jesuit scholar Athanasius Kircher [see here] published what is in many ways a more spectacular work. Mundus Subterraneus  (Underground world), a two-volume tome of atlas-like dimensions, was intended to lay out “before the eyes of the curious reader all that is rare, exotic, and portentous contained in the fecund womb of Nature.” There is an “idea of the earthly sphere that exists in the divine mind,” Kircher proclaimed, and in this book, one of more than thirty on almost as many subjects that he published during his lifetime, he tried to prove that he had grasped it.

As a French writer put it some years later, “it would take a whole journal to indicate everything remarkable in this work.” There were extended treatments on the spontaneous generation of living animals from non-living matter, the unethical means by which alchemists pretended to change base metals into gold, and the apparent tricks of nature we now recognize as fossils. The book included detailed charts of “secret” oceanic motions, or currents, among the first ever published. The author’s more or less correct explanation of how igneous rock is formed was also arguably the first in print. According to one modern scholar, Kircher “understood erosion,” and his entries “on the quality and use of sand” and his “investigations into the tending of fields” had their practical use.

Mundus Subterraneus identified the location of the legendary lost island of Atlantis (something that modern science hasn’t been able to accomplish) as well as the source of the Nile: it started in the “Mountains of the Moon,” then ran northward through “Guix,” “Sorgola,” and “Alata” and on into “Bagamidi” before reaching Ethiopia and Egypt. Kircher offered a lengthy discussion of people who lived in caves (their societies and their economy). He reported on the remains of giants (also mainly cave dwellers) found in the ground. And he went into detail on the kinds of lower animals who belong to the lower world (including dragons).

In short, Mundus Subterraneus covered almost every subject that might relate to the realm of earth, as well as many that wouldn’t seem to, such as the sun and “its special properties, by which it flows into the earthly world” and the “nature of the lunar body and its effects.” These correspondences and influences were nothing new, though perhaps only the always-inclusive Athanasius Kircher would choose to publish a series of moon maps in a book about the world below…

Portrait of Kircher at age 53 from Mundus Subterraneus

More on this extraordinary work– inspired in part by a subterranean adventure Kircher himself made into the bowl of Vesuvius– at John Glassie‘s “Athanasius, Underground“; browse the book at the Internet Archive.

* Socrates

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As we praise polymathy, we might recall that it was on this date in 1804 that Corps of Discovery– better known today as the Lewis and Clark Expedition– left Camp Dubois, near Wood River, Illinois, commencing what would be a trek over two years on which they became the first American expedition to cross what is now the western portion of the United States.

President Thomas Jefferson had commissioned the expedition shortly after the Louisiana Purchase (in 1803) to explore and to map the newly acquired territory, to find a practical route across the western half of the continent– a Northwest Passage– and to establish an American presence in this territory before Britain and other European powers tried to claim it.

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Meriwether Lewis and William Clark

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“All fantasy should have a solid base in reality”*…

 

One of the most notorious examples of Waldeck’s penchant for fantasy: an elephant head in this rendition of an Ancient Mayan temple

Not a lot concerning the artist, erotic publisher, explorer, and general enigma Count de Waldeck can be taken at face value, and this certainly includes his fanciful representations of ancient Mesoamerican culture which — despite being brilliantly executed on-site at Mayan monuments like Palenque — run wild with anatopistic lions, elephants, and suspicious architecture.  Rhys Griffiths looks at the life and work of one of the 19th century’s most mysterious and eccentric figures: “Brief Encounters with Jean-Frédéric Maximilien de Waldeck.”

* Sir Max Beerbohm, Zuleika Dobson

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As we ponder a predecessor of Photoshop, we might send delightfully-drawn birthday greetings to Paul Gustave Doré; he was born on this date in 1832.  An engraver, sculptor, and illustrator– indeed, the defining illustrator of works by Rabelais, Balzac, Milton, Cervantes, and many others– Doré is probably best-remembered as the man who showed us Heaven and Hell: the canonical illustrator of Dante.

Don Quixote, his horse Rocinante, and his squire Sancho Panza after an unsuccessful attack on a windmill.

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The Tempest of Hell in THE DIVINE COMEDY

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Written by LW

January 6, 2018 at 1:01 am

“A change in perspective is worth 80 IQ points”*…

 

This rectangular world map [from the design firm AuthaGraph] is made by equally dividing a spherical surface into 96 triangles, transferring it to a tetrahedron while maintaining areas proportions and unfolding it to be a rectangle.

The world map can be tiled in any directions without visible seams. From this map-tiling, a new world map with triangular, rectangular or parallelogram’s outline can be framed out with various regions at its center.

For more background and other views, visit The AuthaGraph World Map.

* Alan Kay

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As we struggle to keep it all in proportion, we might send exploratory birthday greetings to Fabian Gottlieb Thaddeus von Bellingshausen; he was born on this date in 1778.  A sailor, navigator, and cartographer, Bellingshausen was appointed by Czar Alexander I of Russia to lead an expedition that aimed to pick up where Captain Cook (who had died a year after Bellingshausen’s birth) left off, exploring the southern polar region of the globe.  Bellinghausen may have been the first to sight the Antarctic mainland, when he saw distant mountains on January 28, 1820.  Between February 17-19, he recorded seeing ice cliffs and ice-covered mountains, though he didn’t realize that they were in fact a continental mainland.  Similar sightings were also made at about the same time British naval captain Edward Bransfield and the American sealing captain Nathaniel Palmer sailing from other directions, so who was actually the first of them to see Antarctica remains unclear.

(Just as there is some uncertainty as to which of the three mariners was in fact the first to sight the seventh continent, so there is some confusion as to Bellingshausen’s birth date.  This is one of the primary candidates.)

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Written by LW

August 30, 2017 at 1:01 am

“What’s it mean; are you determined / To make modern all mankind?”*…

 

Over the past century, there have been numerous expeditions to find a mythical lost city in the Mosquitia rainforest. La Ciudad Blanca keeps being discovered, over and over again; practically any time anyone finds the remains of any settlement, they call it that. I know of half a dozen large sites that have each been deemed ‘the White City’; there must be others. In all cases, the ‘discoverers’ are outsiders, and their find is presented as a heroic accomplishment. They want us to believe that they are intrepid explorers – achieving what others couldn’t because of their guts, money, technology, business acumen and grit.

Nothing in their description is accurate. The cities aren’t lost; the people living in these areas know all about them. And the original legends do not even reference cities; rather, they refer to locations that, for whatever reason, represent a golden age for indigenous communities. Even the landscape is not particularly dangerous; children grow up there, after all…

Archaeologist Christopher Begley asks: “Ancient ruins keep being ‘discovered’: were they ever lost?

* Charles Conrad Abbott

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As we dig, we might send acquisitive birthday greetings to Baron Nils Erland Herbert Nordenskiöld; he was born on this date in 1877.  A Swedish archeologist and anthropologist, he was a foremost scholar of South American Indian culture in his time.  From 1913, he built an extensive collection of “discovered and recovered” South American native artifacts at the Gotebörg Ethnographic Museum, which he headed.  His work was influential in the study of archaeology and anthropology throughout Scandinavia.

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Written by LW

July 19, 2017 at 1:01 am

“There is no easy walk to freedom”*…

 

Detail showing the span of Ingram’s walk, from a map of America by Diego Gutiérrez dating from 1562, just 6 years before Ingram claimed to have made his journey

In the autumn of 1569 the Gargaryne, a French trader, was moored off Cape Breton in present day Nova Scotia when its captain M. Champaign was alerted to a commotion outside. Three English men sitting in a native canoe were asking to be let on board. Their names were David Ingram, Richard Brown, and Richard Twyde, and they told him a story that began in Mexico the year before.

In September 1568, they’d been involved in the battle of San Juan de Ulúa (present day Veracruz, Mexico), between a fleet of English privateers, led by John Hawkins and Francis Drake, and Spanish forces under Francisco Luján. After Hawkins’ ship, the Minion, was damaged, he sailed across the Gulf of Mexico where he put the crew on shore. European settlements along the Atlantic coast were sparse and some of the men decided to walk back to San Juan while others including Ingram, Brown, and Twyde intended to follow the coast north in search of English communities. After some died and others returned south, the three remaining sailors, after more than a year wandering up the eastern coast of North America, reached the fishing village at Cape Breton, Canada, unintentionally becoming, if the story is to be believed, the first Europeans to cross North America…

If three shipwrecked English sailors really did travel by foot from Florida to Nova Scotia in 1569 then it would certainly count as one of the most remarkable walks undertaken in recorded history.  Although the account’s more fantastical elements, such as the sighting of elephants, have spurred many to consign it to the fiction department, John Toohey argues for a second look: “The Long, Forgotten Walk of David Ingram.”

* Nelson Mandela

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As we take a hike, we might spare a thought for James Lind; he died on this date in 1794.  A Scottish physician, he discovered, as a product of the first ever clinical trial, that adding citrus to the diet of English sailors would curb the incidence of scurvy.  When made a requirement by Sir Gilbert Blane, this resulted in the prompt eradication of the disease from the British Navy. (The Dutch had implemented this practice almost two centuries earlier, though with less scientific justification.)  Lind also recommended shipboard delousing procedures, suggested the use of hospital ships for sick sailors in tropical ports, and arranged for the shipboard distillation of seawater for drinking water– for all of which he is remembered as “The Father of Naval Hygiene.”

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Written by LW

July 13, 2017 at 1:01 am

“I would like to die on Mars. Just not on impact.”*…

 

If all goes as NASA — and Elon Musk — have planned, at some point in the not-too-distant future, a group of astronauts will begin a years-long round trip to Mars. In NASA’s plan, during each six-month (or more) leg of the journey, the members of a small crew will strap themselves into a cramped spacecraft that offers limited opportunities for recreation, distraction or privacy. As they get farther from Earth, they’ll be increasingly isolated from everything they’ve ever known. Real-time communication with mission control or family members will become impossible.

All of that is a recipe for psychological stress, even above and beyond what astronauts have already experienced. So scientists are trying to identify the unique mental pressures that would accompany a trip to Mars so they can select crews who will cope the best, prepare them to handle the difficulties they will face, and learn how best to help them when they’re millions of miles away…

Preparing for a trip that will make a tourist seat on a United flight seem luxurious: “What Going To Mars Will Do To Our Minds.”

Pair with a packing list for Mars: “The Earth In A Suitcase.”

* Elon Musk

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As we buckle in, we might spare a thought for Rear Admiral Richard Evelyn Byrd, Jr., USN; he died on this date in 1957.  An explorer, aviator, and scientist, he was the first man to fly over both of the Earth’s poles.

From the age of 13, he showed an adventurous spirit, traveling alone around the world.  He joined the Navy, and by WW I was commander of U.S. Navy aviation forces in Canada.  To improve aerial navigation for occasions when no land or horizon would be visible, he developed a bubble sextant and a drift indicator.

On May 9, 1926, in order to demonstrate the practicability of aerial polar exploration, he and a copilot circled the North Pole.  During an Antarctic expedition, he organized scientific studies, surveying, and collection of meteorological and radio wave propagation data. Then, on November 28-29, 1929, with three crew, he made a flight to the South Pole.

By the time he died, Byrd had amassed twenty-two citations and special commendations, nine of which were for bravery and two for extraordinary heroism in saving the lives of others. In addition, he received the Medal of Honor, the Silver Lifesaving Medal, the Navy Distinguished Service Medal, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Navy Cross, and had three ticker-tape parades– the only individual to ever receive more than two.

Byrd was one of only four American military officers in history entitled to wear a medal with his own image on it. The others were Admiral George Dewey, General John J. Pershing and Admiral William T. Sampson.  As Byrd’s image is on both the first and second Byrd Antarctic Expedition medals, he was the only American entitled to wear two medals with his own image on them.

Byrd and his Vought VE-7 Bluebird seaplane

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Written by LW

March 11, 2017 at 1:01 am

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