Saturday, 19 August 2017

Printing Time: Workshop on French Almanacs at Waddesdon Manor

Almanac ‘Calendrier Republican’ 1794. Photo: Waddesdon Manor
I will be speaking, among expert company, at Waddesdon Manor in Buckinghamshire, UK on Monday 16th October 2017.

They have announced a workshop in conjunction with the exhibition Glorious Years: French Calendars from Louis XIV to the Revolution.  The workshop will explore themes around the production and consumption of French 17th-and 18th-century almanacs (in book and print formats), while also looking at the broader context of the history of Time and its depiction during this period.

The blurb says:
Our distinguished speakers are drawn from across disciplines. Confirmed participants include Stephen Boyd Davis (Royal College of Art), Adam Dant (artist), Rachel Jacobs (Waddesdon Manor), Maxime Préaud (Bibliothèque nationale de France), Véronique Sarrazin (Université d'Angers, Laboratoire CERHIO) and Matthew Shaw (Institute of Historical Research, UCL).
I will be talking about the changing conceptions of historical time and how that was represented graphically from the mid- through to the late eighteenth century.

There will be an opportunity to visit the exhibition during the day with curator Rachel Jacobs and artist Adam Dant.

To register an interest in attending please email diane.bellis [at] There is a charge of £25 for the day which covers all catering costs.  To secure a place, call the Waddesdon booking office 01296 653226 to pay using either a debit or credit card.

Waddesdon nearing completion in 1883. Photo: Waddesdon Manor
The exhibition from 22 March to 29 October 2017 includes 26 printed wall almanacs and 7 bound volumes.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Dr Florian Kräutli speaks at British Museum event. @AlumniRCA

It's good to see Florian Kräutli, formerly my PhD student at the Royal College of Art, and now Research Technology Officer at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin, talking at the ResearchSpace Symposium ‘Building cultural heritage knowledge’ at the British Library tomorrow and Friday (27th and 28th July 2017).

The event is now full, but you can read about it here: Eventbrite

Funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the conference highlights the challenges for sustainable knowledge building between cultural heritage institutions, universities and other interested audiences. Papers will include the principles, methodology, techniques and viewpoints of people and projects attempting to answer these questions and provide practical solutions.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

12 July. Boyne? Aughrim? calendars!

It seems so appropriate that the very date of commemoration of the Battle of the Boyne is bound up with the same religious differences that underlay the battle itself. The Gregorian calendar was regarded by many protestants as a popish conspiracy.

From BBC History ‘The Battle of the Boyne
The Battle of the Boyne was fought on 1 July 1690, according to the old Julian calendar. This was reformed and replaced with the Gregorian calendar across the British Empire in 1752, repositioning the 'date' of the Battle of the Boyne to 11 July. The method of altering historical dates was somewhat complicated, with eleven days being added to 'old style' dates occurring after 1700, but only ten days to those taking place before that.
There is some dispute over whether celebrating on 12 July is simply the result of a slight historical miscalculation, or a case of the Battle of the Boyne replacing the Battle of Aughrim (another important battle in the Williamite War which took place on 12 July in the Julian calendar) as the focus of commemoration. Either way, William's victory at the Battle of the Boyne has been celebrated on 12 July for over 200 years.
Eviatar Zerubavel’s 2003 Time Maps: Collective Memory and the Social Shape of the Past is excellent on our obsession with anniversaries.

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Exploring the Cooper Hewitt collection with timelines and tags

Olivia Vane, AHRC-funded doctoral student supervised at the RCA by myself and Dr John Stevens, has been doing a great job this summer on an AHRC International Placement at the Copper Hewitt in New York.

She is continuing to pursue our core questions concerned with making visual sense of history – currently exploiting the tags that curators have applied to objects in the collection to draw out a range of different connections and narratives.  This week she is trialling the designs in a public space in the museum, and gathering feedback from visitors.

Many thanks to all at the Cooper Hewitt who are encouraging and supporting this important work.

Olivia's guest blog post: Cooper Hewitt Labs.


Sunday, 12 March 2017

Scientiae conference 2017 @AcadScientiae

In April I shall have the pleasure of participating in the 2017 Scientiae conference at the University of Padua.

My presentation is:
‘Plain truth and common sense’ in Joseph Priestley’s 1765 Chart of Biography
Joseph Priestley (1733-1804) contributed significantly to visual historiography, developing forms of information visualisation in which events in time are organised diagrammatically in preference to textual tables or metaphoric figures. The emerging aesthetic was one of mechanisation, mathematisation and – influenced by geography and cartography – an increasing tendency to treat time as though it were directly analogous to space.  Abstemious presentations of events in a temporal space were preferred to rhetorical, metaphorical presentations of the shape of history.  This raises the question: why did Priestley’s 1765 Chart of Biography take the form it did?  The paper will trace answers through contemporary changes in visual and intellectual culture and by examining Priestley's personal disposition – informed as it was by a mix of his non-conformist religious convictions, his suspicion of rhetoric (‘sooner would I teach the art of poisoning than that of sophistry’1), and his beliefs concerning the nature of human knowledge. The paper will investigate the roots of Priestley’s optimism when he anticipated that ‘plain truth’ if presented to our ‘common sense’ would lead inevitably to right understanding.2  He assumed that if knowledge is presented through ‘the language of the naked facts’ then they ‘cannot but be understood wherever they are known.’3 The argument will be articulated through analysis of the visual artefacts created by Priestley and his contemporaries, together with texts authored by Priestley in a range of disciplines including biblical exegesis, pedagogy and natural philosophy.

1. Joseph Priestley. 1777. A Course of Lectures on Oratory and Criticism. London: Johnson. Page 54.
2. Joseph Priestley. 1782. A History of the Corruptions of Christianity. London: Johnson. Vol.1. Page 171.
3. op. cit. p.114

Link to the conference pages

Friday, 3 February 2017

Another copy of Barbeu-Dubourg's Carte Chronographique

I was lucky recently to buy a copy of what seems almost certainly to be Barbeu-Dubourg's Carte Chronographique (see this post from 2009).  Sadly the 35 copper-engraved printed plates are mounted in a book, not in the 'machine chronologique' that the Princeton University Library has, but that would be too much to ask.

There are many small points of difference from the Princeton edition which I hope eventually to document. In the meantime, here are some preliminary rough photographs...

Barbeu-Dubourg's Carte Chronographique. The chart begins with God, Adam and Eve. The symbols next to the names are not the same as those in the Princeton copy. Collection and photo: Stephen Boyd Davis.

Barbeu-Dubourg's Carte Chronographique. A detail of the last entries including the Battle of Culloden 1746 and the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle 1748. Collection and photo: Stephen Boyd Davis.

Barbeu-Dubourg's Carte Chronographique. A detail of entries modified (in rather ugly handwriting) by a previous owner. Collection and photo: Stephen Boyd Davis.

Monday, 2 January 2017

John Berger 1926-2017

In memory of John Berger.

About Time.  Channel Four, 1985.