Sunday, 16 August 2015

New article published: “Beholder of All Ages: The History of the World in a French Mappemonde”


In March 2012 I had the good fortune to go to Dijon, to the Université de Bourgogne, to give a talk in the series on Scientific Illustration organised by Marie-Odile Bernez.  My visit was particularly productive because I was able to see, in the Bibliothèque Municipale, a fine copy of the Mappe-Monde by Jean-Louis Barbeau de la Bruyère and – even more importantly – one of the very rare copies of Barbeau’s Explication where he explains what he was attempting to do in his chart.

When Marie-Odile asked me to write a paper as a follow-up to the symposium, I decided to focus on that chart and explanation. The paper has now been published in the open-access online journal TextImage (Issue 7, Illustration et discours scientifiques: une perspective historique, Special Issue edited by Marie-Odile Bernez and Mark Niemeyer).

Jean Louis Barbeau de la Bruyère, Mappemonde historique ou carte chronologique, géographique et généalogique des états et empires du monde, 49 cm x 125 cm, Paris, Ph. Buache, 1750. Bibliothèque Municipale Dijon: Fonds Ancien 12990. Photo: Stephen Boyd Davis
Published in 1750 the chart attempted to map historic time in a rigorous way – ‘avec ordre et précision.’  The article makes use of both the chart and the Explication, the latter translated into English for the first time. It sets them in the context of fundamental changes to the nature of visualisation in the eighteenth century.

Barbeau’s ambition was to map all of the known world combined with all of time since the Flood. In his commentary Idée et Usage de cette Carte, printed in the side panels of the chart itself, he sets out a plan to show: ‘tous les Royaumes, Empires, Républiques & grands Peuples qui ont figuré sur la Terre depuis la Dispersion des Hommes après le Déluge jusqu’à présent’ (all the Kingdoms, Empires, Republics and great Peoples which have appeared upon the Earth since the Scattering of Man following the Deluge down to the present time).

All this was to be achieved within a single view. His opening words are, ‘On voit ici du premier coup d’œil...’ (Here are seen at first glance) and he goes on to claim that the dynamic processes associated with nations – their birth, growth, their different circumstances, duration, dismemberment and end – are ‘réduits, avec ordre & précision, en un seul corps; de manière que c’est ici comme le Tableau Politique de l’Univers’ (concentrated, with order and precision, into a single entity; in such a way that we have here a Political Portrait of the whole World).

This kind of claim, that vast extents of territory and periods of time can be made visible under a single all-encompassing view, becomes an increasingly common claim for chronographic visualisations. The eye, it is argued, can effect rapidly what the intellect can only achieve with difficulty.

Read the full article here: http://revue-textimage.com/11_illustration_science/boyd-davis1.html

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Contentious time in the two Koreas

Choices about time continue to have symbolic power to represent difference or unity.

A waitress under a clock in Rason city in North Korea. Photograph: Ng Han Guan/AP
The UK Guardian reports:
Pyongyang Time
The North’s ‘highly regrettable’ decision to establish its own time zone will only deepen divisions between the neighbouring countries, says [South Korea’s] President Park.
The South Korean president, Park Geun-hye, has criticised the North’s “regrettable” decision to turn back its clocks to a new time zone, saying it would deepen divisions between the two rivals.
North Korea announced on Friday that it was changing its standard time to GMT+8:30, 30 minutes behind South Korea.
Pyongyang offered a nationalist rationale for the move, saying it would return the North to the time zone used before Japan imposed Tokyo Standard Time during its rule of the Korean peninsula, which ended in 1945.
Time has repeatedly been used for political-symbolic purposes, usually to establish difference, whether between territories or between regimes within the same territory as in the French and other revolutions. At the time of writing, today is the 28th of Thermidor in the year 223 of the French Revolutionary Calendar (probably - this page explains the ambiguities).

Wired UK points out some other timezone oddities, including an unusual example of using the same zone to represent affinity, rather than conflicting zones to represent difference:
Spain used to be on GMT. Much of Spain is further west than the UK but the country is on the same time zone as Germany. The oddity dates back to General Franco aligning the country with Germany 70 years ago.
Read the Guardian article here: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/aug/10/pyongyang-time-south-korea-response-north-korea

Read the Wired article here: http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2015-08/07/north-korea-time-zone

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Lüna Talks: Uncertainty Scenarios - Time and Progress, ICA London, Monday 1 June 6 - 8 pm


At the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London on Monday 1 June at 6pm, I will be contributing to a discussion that promises to be fascinating.
A three century old ritual is reimagined by artist Marjolijn Dijkman in the form of a week long presentation of ideas and discussions called "LUNA Talks: Uncertainty Scenarios." The LUNA Talks take place around a table, a reproduction of the original table which accommodated The Lunar Society of Birmingham, where pioneers of the Industrial Revolution debated Philosophy, Arts, Sciences and Commerce, every month on the night before full moon. Three centuries later, this table, becomes a platform to develop and expand the knowledge production of our times. The programme includes conversations about the notion of Time, ...
Time and Progress
Monday 1 June
6 - 8 pm
With Stephen Boyd Davis (RCA), Marjolijn Dijkman (Artist) and Cathy Haynes (Artist and Curator) [and possibly others*]. 
* update 30 May. Jay Griffiths, author of Pip Pip: A Sideways Look At Time has confirmed her participation.
On Monday we will introduce LUNA and the project Uncertainty Scenarios. We will focus on the origins of ideas around progress in relation to the timeline "A New Chart of History" of Lunar Man Joseph Priestley and alternative ideas in relation to this concept of time from the past as the present as from different cultural perspectives. 
More information at http://www.fig2.co.uk/#/22/50

No tickets are necessary on Monday, but they are the rest of the week.  As the main ICA entrance is closed on Mondays, entrance to the discussion is via the Duke of York Steps [Google map], as in this drawing (click to enlarge):





Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Britten's Words

At the start of May, Florian Kräutli and I went to the Red House at Aldeburgh, Suffolk, UK to see the exhibition Britten’s Words, in which Florian’s digital visualisation appears.



The exhibition makes exceptionally good use of audio-guides, providing real musical depth to the objects and explanations.


In Florian’s visualisation, song-cycles in Britten’s life of composing are connected to the poets positioned in their own historical timeline. See earlier post for explanation.


Many thanks as always to Lucy Walker of the Britten-Pears Foundation for her sensitive and supportive collaboration.

Friday, 13 March 2015

Book chapter on metaphors of geography in diagramming time


Pickering and Chatto have recently published Knowing Nature in Early Modern Europe, edited by David Beck of Warwick University. They describe the volume:
Today we are used to clear divisions between science and the arts. But early modern thinkers had no such distinctions, with ‘knowledge’ being a truly interdisciplinary pursuit. Each chapter of this collection presents a case study from a different area of knowledge, including the acceptance of heliocentrism and the use of scripture to refute Descartes's claims in A Discourse on Method (1637). The book comes out of an ongoing project, Scientiae, examining the nexus of Renaissance Europe and the history and philosophy of science.
Contents of the book:
Introduction – David Beck 
Part I: Unity and the Investigation of Nature
  • ‘Not a Hundred Sorts of Beasts, Not Two Hundred of Birds’: Universal Language and the Early Modern End of the World – James Dougal Fleming
  • The Moral Physiology of Laughter – Stephen Pender
  • The Part and the Whole: Architectonics of Knowledge in Seventeenth-Century English Thought – Kevin Killeen
Part II: God’s Two Books
  • The Use of Scripture in the Beast Machine Controversy – Lloyd Strickland
  • Johann Jacob Zimmermann and God’s Two Books: Copernican Cosmology in Lutheran Germany around 1700 – Mike A Zuber
  • The Cosmology of Martinus Szent-Ivany SJ (1633–1705): Some Philological Notes on His Dissertatio Cosmographica Seu de Mundi Systemate – Svorad Zavarský
Part III: Imagination and Reality: Time, Zoology and Memory
  • May Not Duration Be Represented as Distinctly as Space? Geography and the Visualization of Time in the Early Eighteenth Century – Stephen Boyd Davis
  • Early Modern Natural Science as an Agent for Change in Naturalist Painting: Jacopo Ligozzi’s Zoological Illustrations as a Case Study – Angelica Groom
  • ‘Direct Ideas’: The Quotidian Imagination in John Willis’s 1618 Memory Theater – Adam Rzepka

My chapter discusses how the mapping of time in the Eighteenth Century was largely modelled on the mapping of space:
The eighteenth century saw the creation of the modern timeline , a diagrammatic representation of historical time that has since become ubiquitous. The present chapter identifies early examples of the genre and discusses their relationship to other forms of knowledge, analysing the artefacts themselves and the contemporary explanations published by their authors. It extends previous work on the influence of mechanical metaphors and models of cognition to focus here on the complementary influence of geography. Geography and chronology were presented as equal contributors to history from at least the sixteenth century, but what was new in the eighteenth was the proposition that chronology could itself become a kind of geography, offering the possibility of ‘cartographies of time.’ The chapter traces the changing relationship between the two disciplines, set in their cultural context.

Navigating time - diagrams as time machines

Ruth Ewan: We Could Have Been Anything That We Wanted to Be, 2011



Marq Smith, editor of the Journal of Visual Culture, asked me to contribute to a symposium connected with the exhibition he has curated, How to Construct a Time Machine, and I offered this: 
Jacques Barbeu-Dubourg described his 16.5 metre diagram in 1753 as "a moving, living tableau, through which pass in review all the ages of the world ... where the rise and fall of Empires are acted out in visible form." Pictorial images of past times seem the most obvious way for us to "travel" in time, evoking the visual characteristics of historical ages. But when the modern timeline was invented in the eighteenth century, diagrams too were promoted as a means to situate ourselves in the past. Images of travel, exploration and international trade were eagerly co-opted as images of historical inquiry.
It allows me to rethink some of the metaphors of geography and cartography, discussed here, as metaphors of travel. Travel around the globe – with exploration, trade and the building of a comprehensive world view in mind – becomes travel through time.  

How to Construct a Time Machine 
Tuesday 17 March / 1.30-6pm 
6 Cecil Court, London WC2N 4HE 
The events are organised by curators Marquard Smith, Nina Trivedi and Simon Wright.  With contributions from James Auger (RCA, on robots), Stephen Boyd Davis (RCA, on timelines), Sonya Dyer (Artist, on the future), Katharine Fry(Goldsmiths, on the constant instant), Peter Osborne (Kingston), and Nina Trivedi (RCA, on deep time)
I was glad to see Ruth Ewan (image above), who contributes to the exhibition, echoing the decimal clock of the French Revolution (below).
From Wikipedia: French Republican Calendar



Sunday, 8 March 2015

Britten's poets

As part of his work with the Britten-Pears Foundation in Aldeburgh, UK, PhD student Florian Kräutli has been developing a new visualisation of the temporal relations between the song-cycles in composer Benjamin Britten’s lifetime of composing and the dates of the poets whose work the composer set.
Detail of a double-timeline representing (top) Benjamin Britten's lifetime and (bottom) the time span of the poets whose work he set.  Florian Kräutli for Britten-Pears Foundation. Screenshot.
It comprises two parallel timelines - a surprisingly under-exploited arrangement that Florian has made good use of before.  The top line shows the composer’s lifetime: circles are song-cycles, the size of the circle representing the number of poems in a given cycle.  The lower line shows all the poets Britten set, the size of the circle representing the number of each poet’s works set. The lateral position shows the date of composition (in the Britten timeline) or the mid-point of the poet’s life (in the longer poet timeline extending as far back as Sophocles).

Clicking on a poet highlights Britten’s settings; clicking on a song cycle highlights all the poets whose words are part of the cycle.

The timeline will be displayed as part of Britten’s Words, an exhibition at The Red House Gallery, Aldeburgh, from 1 May 2015.

Florian is funded by a CASE grant from the EPSRC, awarded by the Creative Industries KTN.

Exhibitions at The Red House Gallery, Aldeburgh.