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Posts Tagged ‘social science

“Gussie, a glutton for punishment, stared at himself in the mirror”*…

 

Anonymous, Marcia Painting Self-Portrait Using Mirror (detail), in Giovanni Boccaccio’s De Mulieribus Claris, c. 1403. Bibliothèque Nationale de France.

Polished metal and obsidian mirrors have existed from ancient times, and because of this, historians have usually passed over the introduction of the glass mirror as if it was just another variation on an old theme. But the development of glass mirrors marks a crucial shift, for they allowed people to see themselves properly for the first time, with all their unique expressions and characteristics. Polished metal mirrors of copper or bronze were very inefficient by comparison, reflecting only about 20 percent of the light; and even silver mirrors had to be exceptionally smooth to give any meaningful reflection. These were also prohibitively expensive: most medieval people would only have glimpsed their faces darkly, reflected in a pool of water.

The convex glass mirror was a Venetian invention of about 1300, possibly connected with the development of the glass lenses used in the earliest spectacles (invented in the 1280s). By the late fourteenth century, you could find such mirrors in northern Europe. The future Henry IV of England paid 6d to have the glass of a broken mirror replaced in 1387. Four years later, while traveling in Prussia, he paid £1 3s. 8d in sterling for “two mirrors of Paris” for his own use. His son, Henry V, had three mirrors in his chamber at the time of his death in 1422, two of which were together worth £1 3s. 2d. Although these were still far too expensive for an average farmer or tradesman, in 1500 the prosperous city merchant could afford such an item. In this respect, the individual with disposable income differed greatly from his ancestor in 1400: he could see his own reflection and thus knew how he appeared to the rest of the world…

The very act of a person seeing himself in a mirror or being represented in a portrait as the center of attention encouraged him to think of himself in a different way. He began to see himself as unique. Previously the parameters of individual identity had been limited to an individual’s interaction with the people around him and the religious insights he had over the course of his life. Thus individuality as we understand it today did not exist: people only understood their identity in relation to groups—their household, their manor, their town or parish—and in relation to God…

From Ian Mortimer‘s “The Mirror Effect- How the rise of mirrors in the fifteenth century shaped our idea of the individual.”

* P.G. Wodehouse, Right Ho, Jeeves

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As we snap that selfie, we might spare a thought for David Émile Durkheim; he died on this date in 1917.  A French sociologist, social psychologist and philosopher, he formally established the academic discipline and—with Karl Marx and Max Weber—is commonly cited as the principal architect of modern social science and father of sociology.

Kant postulates God, since without this hypothesis morality is unintelligible. We postulate a society specifically distinct from individuals, since otherwise morality has no object and duty no roots.

– Durkheim, Sociology and philosophy (1911), D. Pocock, trans. (1974), p. 51.

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Written by LW

November 15, 2016 at 1:01 am

“Data without some sort of analysis is just noise”*…

 

The Scientific American Reference Book of 1913, compiled by Albert A. Hopkins and A. Russell Bond, is available to read on the Internet Archive… a delightful snapshot of the concerns of readers of the magazine a hundred years ago, as well as an interesting tour through infographic design strategies au courant at the time.

“The Editorial staff of the Scientific American receive annually about 15,000 inquiries covering a wide range of topics,” explained Hopkins in a preface. While the magazine had earlier published a Scientific American Cyclopedia of Receipts, Notes, and Queries (which did well, selling 25,000 copies), the book didn’t quite fill the needs of every reader; letter-writers wanted general information about the world, not just scientific formulas.

They wanted information about the Antarctic region, the Panama route, shipping, navies, armies, railroads, population, education, patents, submarine cables, wireless telegraphy, manufactures, agriculture, mining, mechanical movements, astronomy, and the weather…

The infographics are also, of course, an opportunity to compare those times to ours (e.g.: the most recent data on expenditure on public education in the U.S. suggests that “teachers salaries”– “instruction”– has fallen to 54% of the total.)

More backstory and examples at “A Treasure Trove of Awkward Early-20th-Century Infographics.” Page through the entire volume here.

* Irene Ros, Bocoup; interview, October, 02, 2014

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As we compress, 1000 words at a time, we might send statistically-significant birthday greetings to Lambert Adolphe Jacques Quetelet; he was born on this date in 1796.  An astronomer, mathematician, statistician, and sociologist, he was instrumental in introducing statistical methods to the social sciences. From 1825, he wrote papers on social statistics, and in 1835 gained international recognition for publication of Sur l’homme et le developpement de ses facultés, essai d’une physique sociale, in which he used the normal curve (which had previously been applied to error correction) to illustrate a distribution of measured human traits about a central value–  pioneering the concept of “the average man or woman.” One of his primary foci was public health: his establishment of a simple measure for classifying people’s weight relative to an ideal for their height, the body mass index (AKA, the Quetelet index), has endured with minor variations to the present day.

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Written by LW

February 22, 2016 at 1:01 am

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