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“Design is the intermediary between information and understanding”*…

 

graphic design manuscripts

Pages depicting flasks of urine for diagnosing disease, from The Twenty Jordans (MS. Ashmole, 1413). The pictures run across facing pages, so that you can compare samples easily (courtesy Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford)

 

Designing English: Graphics on the Medieval Page at the University of Oxford’s Bodleian Libraries examines the how the creation of early English books, from their hand-written language to the bindings themselves, can be viewed as pioneering graphic design. Whether a hunting manual with ages of deers described through illustrations of antler growth, or an elegant 15th-century copy of The Canterbury Tales where borders and titles guide the reader through the text, these manuscripts grappled with engaging their readers through their visual design.

“We’ve deliberately used the term ‘design’ which wasn’t used in our sense during the Middle Ages,” Dan Wakelin, professor of medieval English paleography and curator of Designing English, told Hyperallergic. “First, the term ‘design’ helps us appreciate the creativity of the past. Medieval craftspeople left us few records of their own thought processes, so we often need to use our own terms when we try to reconstruct them. The term ‘design’ brings to light aspects of the thoughtfulness and ingenuity behind medieval manuscripts and artifacts which we might otherwise miss.”…

How early English authors and scribes worked to communicate: “How Medieval Manuscript Makers Experimented with Graphic Design.”

* Hans Hofmann

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As we lay it out, we might recall that it was on this date in 1878 that the first telephone directory was issued. Consisting of a single piece of cardboard, it listed 50 individuals, businesses, and other offices in New Haven, Connecticut that had telephones.  There were, as readers will note on the photo below, no numbers, as callers had to be connected by an operator.

oldphone source

 

Written by LW

February 21, 2020 at 1:01 am

“Most of us spend too much time on the last twenty-four hours and too little on the last six thousand years”*…

 

Willard infographic

“Willard’s Chronographer of American History” (1845) by Emma Willard — David Rumsey Map Collection

 

In the 21st-century, infographics are everywhere. In the classroom, in the newspaper, in government reports, these concise visual representations of complicated information have changed the way we imagine our world.  Susan Schulten explores the pioneering work of Emma Willard (1787–1870), a leading feminist educator whose innovative maps of time laid the groundwork for the charts and graphics of today…

Willard’s remarkable story– and more glorious examples of her work– at “Emma Willard’s Maps of Time.”

* Will Durant

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As we picture it all, we might recall that it was on this date in 1870 that Congress authorized the formation of the U.S. weather service (later named the Weather Bureau; later still, the National Weather Service), and placed it under the direction of the Army Signal Corps.  Cleveland Abbe,  who had started the first private weather reporting and warning service (in Cincinnati) and had been issuing weather reports or bulletins since September, 1869, was the only person in the country at the time who was experienced in drawing weather maps from telegraphic reports and forecasting from them.  He became the weather service’s inaugural chief scientist– effectively its founding head– in January, 1871.  The first U.S. meteorologist, he is known as the “father of the U.S. Weather Bureau,” where he systemized observation, trained personnel, and established scientific methods.  He went on to become one of the 33 founders of the National Geographic Society.

Cleveland Abbe

source

 

“The most perfect political community is one in which the middle class is in control, and outnumbers both of the other classes”*…

 

middle class

 

But is there a middle class?…

Every politician defends the middle class, but none of them knows quite what it is. In August, during a town hall, Joe Biden said, “We have to rebuild the middle class, and this time we bring everyone along.” In his telling, the middle class is part memory and part aspiration, less a demographic group than a morality tale of loss and redemption. It “isn’t a number,” Biden is fond of saying. “It’s a set of values.”

For many social scientists, though, the middle class is a matter of numbers. The Pew Research Center says that anyone who earns between a mere two-thirds of the median household income and twice that amount falls within it. By that definition, just under half of all American adults are middle class. Unlike in Britain, where the category is seen as more culturally refined, the American middle class includes blue-collar workers whose consumption patterns fit the bill; they can buy a home or put their kids through college. Biden defines the middle class even more expansively. To be middle class, he said in Iowa this summer, is to know “that your kid is safe going outside to play”—something most humans, if not most large primates, would agree they want. To be middle class is to be, well, normal.

Republicans, for their part, rarely promise to rebuild the middle class; they want, as President Trump has said, to make it “bigger and more prosperous than ever before.” But liberal politicians from Biden to Barack Obama to Elizabeth Warren often vow to restore the middle class to the former glory of the three decades after World War II—a time when, they say, prosperity was shared and class conflict neutralized.

Even then, however, there was a sense that the middle class was in crisis. In his 1956 best-seller, The Organization Man, William Whyte wrote of a middle class—an implicitly white middle class—trapped in suburbs and office jobs, shorn of the entrepreneurial individualism and wartime solidarity of earlier generations. In 1969, a New York Times reporter found in Italian-American Queens a community trapped between escalating grocery bills and the expanding “ghetto.” In 1977, the middle class was “struggling uphill,” the Chicago Tribune wrote. In 1992, it felt “betrayed” and “forgotten,” according to the Times. And since 2008, Times subscribers have read of a middle class that is “sagging,” “shrinking,” “sinking,” and “limping.” In short, the middle class, as our politicians imagine it, has never really existed [in a settled, continuous way]: It is always in decline, always on the brink of being rebuilt.

To imagine the middle class, then, is to invoke a myth. Politicians use it to bind Americans together in a shared hope that they can one day return to the lost idyll of the postwar period. In that sense, the concept is remarkably optimistic, if somewhat inconsistent. As Lawrence Samuel argues in The American Middle Class: A Cultural History, the term expresses two incompatible things: It suggests that the United States is a classless society in which most citizens belong to the same social sphere, even as it hints at a rarefied class above the middle that anyone can reach if they work hard enough to ascend the ladder of opportunity. These can’t both be true—if the United States were a classless society, there would be no need for upward mobility. The metaphor gives the lie to the myth. Every ladder, after all, has a top and a bottom—and it’s the bottom that bears all the weight…

Politicians– and business people and academics– are quick to reference “the middle class.”  John Patrick Leary (@johnpatleary) explores “What We Talk About When We Talk About the Middle Class.”

* Aristotle

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As we contemplate classification and its consequences, we might recall that it was on this date in 1792, during George Washington’s first term as president, that the first edition of The Farmers Almanac was published.  (It became The Old Farmers Almanac in 1832 to distinguish itself from similarly-titled competitors.)  Still going strong, it is the oldest continuously-published periodical in the U.S.

Almanac source

 

Written by LW

November 25, 2019 at 1:01 am

“You just don’t get any perspective if you are looking at a map on a small screen… and the batteries on handheld devices run out, especially in very cold environments”*…

 

Stanford Map

 

Home to the world’s largest collection of maps, travel books and globes, its customers include governments and armed forces from around the world… Based in Covent Garden, in the centre of London, family-owned Stanfords is a 166-year-old British institution. Opening its doors in 1853, it harks back to the great expeditions of the 19th and early 20th Centuries.

Its famous customers from that time included David Livingstone, who explored much of Africa, and Ernest Shackleton, who led expeditions to Antarctica. Even fictional character Sherlock Holmes was a fan.

Vivien Godfrey, 58, has been chief executive and chairman of Stanfords since March 2018, but her connection to the business has been a lifelong one. Her family have been majority owners since 1946, and she is now the third generation to lead the company. She describes Stanfords as having “been part of my entire life”.

However, when she graduated from Oxford University with a degree in geography in 1983, her father wouldn’t let her join the family firm…

Stanford's 2

The story of one of London’s treasures, and the woman who leads it: “The map store boss who took the long route.”

[TotH to friend KE]

* Vivien Godfrey, on the benefits of printed maps

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As we carefully re-fold, we might spare a thought for a cartographer of a different sort, James Grover Thurber; he died on this date in 1961.  A cartoonist, author, humorist, journalist, playwright, children’s book author, and all-round wit, he was probably best known for his cartoons and short stories published mainly in The New Yorker magazine (like “The Catbird Seat” and “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”)– though his Broadway comedy The Male Animal (written in collaboration with his college friend Elliott Nugent), was later adapted into a film starring Henry Fonda and Olivia de Havilland.

Q. No one has been able to tell us what kind of dog we have. I am enclosing a sketch of one of his two postures. He only has two. The other one is the same as this except he faces in the opposite direction. – Mrs EUGENIA BLACK

A. I think that what you have is a cast-iron lawn dog. The expressionless eye and the rigid pose are characteristic of metal lawn animals. And that certainly is a cast-iron ear. You could, however, remove all doubt by means of a simple test with a hammer and a cold chisel, or an acetylene torch. If the animal chips, or melts, my diagnosis is correct.

The Thurber Carnival (1945)

220px-James_Thurber_NYWTS source

 

Written by LW

November 2, 2019 at 1:01 am

“I never said, ‘I want to be alone.’ I only said ‘I want to be let alone!’ There is all the difference.”*…

 

moshed-1

 

Someone observing her could assemble in forensic detail her social and familial connections, her struggles and interests, and her beliefs and commitments. From Amazon purchases and Kindle highlights, from purchase records linked with her loyalty cards at the drugstore and the supermarket, from Gmail metadata and chat logs, from search history and checkout records from the public library, from Netflix-streamed movies, and from activity on Facebook and Twitter, dating sites, and other social networks, a very specific and personal narrative is clear.

If the apparatus of total surveillance that we have described here were deliberate, centralized, and explicit, a Big Brother machine toggling between cameras, it would demand revolt, and we could conceive of a life outside the totalitarian microscope. But if we are nearly as observed and documented as any person in history, our situation is a prison that, although it has no walls, bars, or wardens, is difficult to escape.

Which brings us back to the problem of “opting out.” For all the dramatic language about prisons and panopticons, the sorts of data collection we describe here are, in democratic countries, still theoretically voluntary. But the costs of refusal are high and getting higher: A life lived in social isolation means living far from centers of business and commerce, without access to many forms of credit, insurance, or other significant financial instruments, not to mention the minor inconveniences and disadvantages — long waits at road toll cash lines, higher prices at grocery stores, inferior seating on airline flights.

It isn’t possible for everyone to live on principle; as a practical matter, many of us must make compromises in asymmetrical relationships, without the control or consent for which we might wish. In those situations — everyday 21st-century life — there are still ways to carve out spaces of resistance, counterargument, and autonomy.

We are surrounded by examples of obfuscation that we do not yet think of under that name. Lawyers engage in overdisclosure, sending mountains of vaguely related client documents in hopes of burying a pertinent detail. Teenagers on social media — surveilled by their parents — will conceal a meaningful communication to a friend in a throwaway line or a song title surrounded by banal chatter. Literature and history provide many instances of “collective names,” where a population took a single identifier to make attributing any action or identity to a particular person impossible, from the fictional “I am Spartacus” to the real “Poor Conrad” and “Captain Swing” in prior centuries — and “Anonymous,” of course, in ours…

There is real utility in an obfuscation approach, whether that utility lies in bolstering an existing strong privacy system, in covering up some specific action, in making things marginally harder for an adversary, or even in the “mere gesture” of registering our discontent and refusal. After all, those who know about us have power over us. They can deny us employment, deprive us of credit, restrict our movements, refuse us shelter, membership, or education, manipulate our thinking, suppress our autonomy, and limit our access to the good life…

As Finn Brunton and Helen Nissenbaum argue in their new book Obfuscation: A User’s Guide for Privacy and Protest, those who know about us have power over us; obfuscation may be our best digital weapon: “The Fantasy of Opting Out.”

* Greta Garbo

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As we ponder privacy, we might recall that it was on this date in 1536 that William Tyndale was strangled then burned at the stake for heresy in Antwerp.  An English scholar and leading Protestant reformer, Tyndale effectively replaced Wycliffe’s Old English translation of the Bible with a vernacular version in what we now call Early Modern English (as also used, for instance, by Shakespeare). Tyndale’s translation was first English Bible to take advantage of the printing press, and first of the new English Bibles of the Reformation. Consequently, when it first went on sale in London, authorities gathered up all the copies they could find and burned them.  But after England went Protestant, it received official approval and ultimately became the basis of the King James Version.

Ironically, Tyndale incurred Henry VIII’s wrath after the King’s “conversion” to Protestantism, by writing a pamphlet decrying Henry’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon.  Tyndale moved to Europe, where he continued to advocate Protestant reform, ultimately running afoul of the Holy Roman Empire, which sentenced him to his death.

 source

 

Written by LW

October 6, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Some books should be tasted, some devoured, but only a few should be chewed and digested thoroughly”*…

 

Pelican

The first Pelican title

 

It was a university course for the price of a packet of cigarettes: Pelican Books! Maybe the blend wasn’t to everyone’s taste, but there’s no denying the addictive nature of the range!

Pulp Librarian looks back at the autodidact’s library of choice: “Pelican Books.”

* Sir Francis Bacon

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As we double-down on democratization, we might send chronically-correct birthday greetings to Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon; he was born on this date in 1707.  A naturalist, mathematician, cosmologist, and encyclopédiste, Buffon formulated a crude theory of evolution, and was the first to suggest that the earth might be older than suggested by the Bible: in 1778 he proposed that the Earth was hot at its creation and, judging from the rate of its cooling, calculated its age to be 75,000 years, with life emerging some 40,000 years ago.

In 1739 Buffon was appointed keeper of the Jardin du Roi, a post he occupied until his death. There he worked on the comprehensive work on natural history for which he is remembered, Histoire naturelle, générale et particulière. He began in 1749, and it dominated the rest of his life.  It would eventually run to 44 volumes, covering quadrupeds, birds, reptiles and minerals.  As Ernst Mayr remarked, “truly, Buffon was the father of all thought in natural history in the second half of the 18th century.”

 source

 

Written by LW

September 7, 2019 at 1:01 am

“What goes up must come down”*…

 

population

 

For most of human history, the world’s population grew so slowly that for most people alive, it would have felt static. Between the year 1 and 1700, the human population went from about 200 million to about 600 million; by 1800, it had barely hit one billion. Then, the population exploded, first in the United Kingdom and the United States, next in much of the rest of Europe, and eventually in Asia. By the late 1920s, it had hit two billion. It reached three billion around 1960 and then four billion around 1975. It has nearly doubled since then. There are now some 7.6 billion people living on the planet.

Just as much of the world has come to see rapid population growth as normal and expected, the trends are shifting again, this time into reverse. Most parts of the world are witnessing sharp and sudden contractions in either birthrates or absolute population. The only thing preventing the population in many countries from shrinking more quickly is that death rates are also falling, because people everywhere are living longer. These oscillations are not easy for any society to manage…

Demographic decline– the end of capitalism as we know it?  “The Population Bust.”

See also: “UN world population report predicts slowing growth rate, 10.9 billion peak by 2100” (source of the image above) and The Rise and Fall of Nations: Forces of Change in a Post-Crisis World, by Ruchir Sharma.

* Isaac Newton

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As we ponder population, we might recall that it was on this date in 1845 that the first issue of Scientific American was published.  Founded as a weekly by painter and inventor Rufus M. Porter, as a four-page weekly newspaper, its early emphasis was on a broad range of inventions ranging from perpetual motion machines, through an 1860 device for buoying vessels (created by Abraham Lincoln), to the universal joint which now can be found in nearly every automobile manufactured.  It became the somewhat more substantial monthly publication that we know and love when,in 1948, three partners (publisher Gerard Piel, editor Dennis Flanagan, and general manager Donald H. Miller, Jr) who were planning on starting a new popular science magazine, to be called The Sciences, purchased the assets of the then century-old Scientific American instead and put its name on the designs they had created for their new magazine.

Scientific_American_-_Series_1_-_Volume_001_-_Issue_01.pdf

The first issue of Scientific American

 

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