Visual Knowledge

We come to know the world not only through words and texts but also through visual images anchored in real spaces.  Pictures, diagrams, illuminations, architectural constructions, museum displays, statues, and scientific visualizations reflect, as well as crucially establish, doctrines and ways of knowing that may also exist in discursive form. Just as our work investigates relations between visual media and non-visual formations, it also concentrates on relations across different visual media and on the ways that visual objects become irreducible to text.

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Visual Knowledge

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    Brown Bag Talk on Visualization

    I will be giving a brown back talk on visualization as a tool in the humanities tomorrow, September 5th at noon. All are invited!

    Categories: 
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Faculty Work
    • VMW
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    Debating Visual Knowledge Facebook Page

    Are you a Facebook user? If so, visit the Facebook page for the Debating Visual Knowledge symposium. Expect updates!

    Categories: 
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Graduate Work
  • Système figuré des connoissances humaines, in Diderot and d’Alembert, Encyclopédie, ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers


    Système figuré des connoissances humaines, in Diderot and d’Alembert, Encyclopédie, ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers
. Published by Pellet, Geneva, 1777-1779, text volume 1. Courtesy of Special Collections, Hillman Library, University of Pittsburgh.

    • Système figuré des connoissances humaines, in Diderot and d’Alembert, Encyclopédie, ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers

    • Denis Diderot (French, 1713-1784), Jean le Rond d’Alembert (French, 1717-1783). Encyclopédie, ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers.
    • Denis Diderot (French, 1713-1784), Jean le Rond d’Alembert (French, 1717-1783) and Pierre Mouchon (French, 1733-1797)  Encyclopédie, ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers
    • Denis Diderot (French, 1713-1784), Jean le Rond d’Alembert (French, 1717-1783) and Pierre Mouchon (French, 1733-1797)  Encyclopédie, ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers
    • Denis Diderot (French, 1713-1784), Jean le Rond d’Alembert (French, 1717-1783) and Pierre Mouchon (French, 1733-1797)  Encyclopédie, ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers
    • Denis Diderot (French, 1713-1784), Jean le Rond d’Alembert (French, 1717-1783) and Pierre Mouchon (French, 1733-1797)  Encyclopédie, ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers
     

    Knowledge Reconfigured

    Drew Armstrong

    Diderot, d’Alembert and the Encyclopédie (1751)

    The “Tree of Knowledge” [Système figuré des connaissances humaines] appeared in the first volume of the Encyclopédie, ou, Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers (1751), a titanic publishing enterprise produced between 1751 and 1772 and masterminded by Denis Diderot (1713-1784) and Jean Le Rond d’Alembert (1717-1783).  The point of the diagram was to demonstrate that all knowledge [Entendement] is the product of sense experience and the workings of three mental faculties – Memory, Reason, and Imagination.

    The “Tree of Knowledge” encapsulated in a single image the main goals of the Encyclopédie: to reconfigure the entirety of human knowledge as the basis for future progress in all fields of inquiry.  Citing precursors such as Francis Bacon, John Locke, and Isaac Newton, Diderot and d’Alembert based their encyclopedia on empirical and mathematical knowledge, rather than the authority of sources such as Ancient texts or the Bible.  An array of contemporary specialists was tapped to write over 70,000 articles on topics ranging from abstract principles of justice to the intricacies of watch-making.

    The first folio edition of the Encyclopédie was a luxury product consisting of 17 volumes of text and 11 volumes of plates illustrating an array of sciences, technologies, and arts.  The 2,885 engraved plates added substantially to the cost and time of production, but the editors justified the inclusion of this material to better explain complicated processes and unfamiliar things to a curious readership.  The Encyclopédie was thus something of a museum of visual specimens as well as an alphabetical dictionary of terms and ideas.

    The ambition of the Encyclopédie was to change the way people thought.  The audacity of this project is brought into focus when considered in relation to the very limited nature of formal education available in eighteenth-century Europe.  Universities were accessible only to a privileged elite and their curricula – inherited from the Middle Ages – remained devoted largely to the study of ancient Greek and Latin authors, law, medicine and, most important, theology.  The Encyclopédie, by contrast, reached a European-wide audience.  By 1789, it is estimated that 24,000 complete sets in various formats and editions had been printed, more than half of which were distributed outside France.

    The Plates of the Encyclopédie

    The plates of the Encyclopédie often represent stages in complex technical processes by juxtaposing images of different types.  Vignettes representing human figures engaged in various activities are supplemented by large-scale renderings depicting tools and their proper manipulation.  Thus, in the plates that represent “Engraving” [Gravure], the process of transferring drawings to copper plates is illustrated in step-by-step fashion in a perspective view of an engraver’s studio, while the chisel-like tools used in this process are shown with cross-sections through their blades to better illustrate their forms.  Numbers adjacent to different parts of the image link each element into articles in the text.

    Other visual techniques employed in the Encyclopédie include table-like arrays of specimens grouped to facilitate visual comparisons.  Such, for example, is the strategy used in the plate from the Supplément (1777) illustrating the stages in the development of a frog, which breaks down the process of gestation to clarify transformation and mutation over time.  Two plates (1768) illustrating different systems of botanical classification – the one developed by the French scholar Joseph Pitton de Tournefort (1656-1708), the other by the Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778) – are especially striking, permitting the reader to compare two competing systems at a moment when neither had been universally adopted by botanists.  Through these images, the Encyclopédie contributed to discussions about the principles of disciplines and disseminated up-to-date ideas formulate by prominent specialists.

    The Encyclopédie was not merely conceived as a repository of information, but as an instrument for making new knowledge; as such, its product was ambiguous and open-ended, dependent on the reader making serendipitous juxtapositions.  In the course of the eighteenth century, a number of subsequent editions of the Encyclopédie were published, notably the smaller quarto edition exhibited here alongside the first folio edition. Published between 1777 and 1779 in Geneva, the quarto edition consisted of 36 text volumes and only three volumes of illustrations.  By this stage, the new publishers regarded the illustrations as cumbersome and largely unnecessary, explaining that while the Encyclopédie had contributed to “accelerating the progress of reason,” the cost of the original edition was an impediment to maximizing its benefits to humanity.

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    Debating Visual Knowledge

    Mark your calendars for the University of Pittsburgh's Debating Visual Knowledge Graduate Student Symposium on October 3-5. Please visit the constantly-evolving website at debatingvisualknowledge.com

    The symposium is interdisciplinary, incorporating organizers, presenters, and participants from various departments including information science, art history, philosophy, theatre, communication, English, biology, and more...

    I will post more information about presenters on this site in the weeks leading up to the Symposium. Keep an eye out! 

    Categories: 
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Graduate Work
  • periodic table of visualization methods

    Image Credit: Colby Stuart, "periodic table of visualization methods," https://flic.kr/p/xbFB1.

     

    PhD Seminar in the Digital Humanities, Fall 2014

    I will be teaching a PhD seminar this fall in the digital humanities at the iSchool here at Pitt. The draft syllabus is done for those who might be interested in seeing what is going on...check out the PDF attached at the bottom of the post.

    There will be balanced focus on the theoretical and practical aspects of producing digitally-inflected work in the humanities and social sciences, and students can expect to leave the course having built something that furthers their own research. Do be in touch if you have any questions or would like any further information (contact information).

    ETA: Class will be held on Mondays from 12-3pm in the School of Information Sciences.

    Categories: 
    • Agency
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Faculty Work
    • VMW
  • Old Media, New Media Image

    Old Media and New Media. Image Credit: Flickr user mermaid, london street art: what are these?.

     

    New Media Preservation Strategies

    Cornell University Library has started a project. funded by the NEH, to investigate how best to preserve born-digital art objects. Their preliminary findings (survey-based) have just been published as "Interactive Digital Media Art Survey: Key Findings and Observations." The eventual goal is to publish generalizable best practices in this area. Those of you interested in such things should certainly head over there.

    Categories: 
    • Agency
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Faculty Work
    • VMW
  • Fritz Kahn (German, 1888-1968). Der Weg der entwikclung (The path of development) from the series Das Leben des Menschen: Eine volkstumliche Anatomie, Biologie, physiologie und Entwicklungsgeschichte des Menschen, vol. II. Published by Franck`sche Verlagshandlung, Stuttgart, 1929, volume IV. Courtesy University of Pittsburgh Library System.

    Fritz Kahn (German, 1888-1968). Der Weg der entwikclung (The path of development) from the series Das Leben des Menschen: Eine volkstumliche Anatomie, Biologie, physiologie und Entwicklungsgeschichte des Menschen, vol. II. Published by Franck`sche Verlagshandlung, Stuttgart, 1929, volume IV. Courtesy University of Pittsburgh Library System.

    • Fritz Kahn (German, 1888-1968). Der Weg der entwikclung (The path of development) from the series Das Leben des Menschen: Eine volkstumliche Anatomie, Biologie, physiologie und Entwicklungsgeschichte des Menschen, vol. II. Published by Franck`sche Verlagshandlung, Stuttgart, 1929, volume IV. Courtesy University of Pittsburgh Library System.
    • Fritz Kahn (German, 1888-1968). Die prinzipien der warmeschutzes (The principles of Thermal protection) from the series Das Leben des Menschen: Eine volkstumliche Anatomie, Biologie, physiologie und Entwicklungsgeschichte des Menschen.
    • Fritz Kahn (German, 1888-1968). Das Vegetative Nervensystem (The Autonomic Nervous System), tab. XI from the series Das Leben des Menschen: Eine volkstumliche Anatomie, Biologie, physiologie und Entwicklungsgeschichte des Menschen. Published by Franck`sche Verlagshandlung, Stuttgart, 1929, volume IV. Courtesy University of Pittsburgh Library System.
    • Fritz Kahn (German, 1888-1968). Muskel-u Klingelleitung in ihrer funftelligent Ubereinstimmung`` (Muscles and doorbell wire corresponding in five parts)
     

    The Body Reconfigured

    Annika Johnson

    Kahn, The Life of Man (1923-1931)

    The title of Fritz Kahn’s five-volume series – The Life of Man: A Popular Anatomy, Biology, Physiology and Developmental History of Man – reveals his ambition to synthesize new scientific knowledge into texts and images designed for a broad, non-specialist audience.  Kahn imagined the human body as a microcosm of both the universe and of the modern world: atoms, cells, and proteins performed their duties within a complex system of mechanical parts like workers in a great modern city.
     
    A team of illustrators working under Kahn’s supervision produced the illustrations for The Life of Man, but establishing a uniform graphic language – something that preoccupied Kahn’s contemporary Otto Neurath – was not a goal.  Images for The Life of Man were appropriated from a variety of sources and no effort was made to create a homogeneous graphic style.  The diversity of image types – including microscopic photography, graphs, physiognomic illustrations, and three-dimensional photographs (complete with 3D glasses!) – expressed Kahn’s belief that different scientific concepts demanded different and sometimes multiple methods of visualization.
     
    Comparative images dominated Kahn’s approach to scientific visualization. Such images emphasized process over realistic graphic renderings of discrete anatomical parts.  Kahn tackled the challenge of representing biological processes by transforming the body into a complex of machine-like organs assembled from gears, levers, conveyor belts and pulleys.  Unlike the plates of the Encyclopédie, which broke down processes into discrete stages and favored a “true-to-life” mode of representation, Kahn’s images encourage the reader to reconstruct the internal processes of the body by imagining the living organism to function like a well-designed machine.
     
    The Life of Man established standards according to which the reader could measure progress and difference.  Numerous illustrations of bodies deemed abnormal or dysfunctional served to reinforce a norm.  Kahn’s definition of “normal” and his constructions of race and gender were based on long-standing visual traditions that will be encountered in other parts of this exhibition.  Physiognomic illustrations (strikingly similar to those developed in the eighteenth century by Johann Kaspar Lavater) are not completely at odds with Kahn’s mechanic illustrations: both types of image impose a standardized view of a normal body – often white and European.

    Kahn, Man as Industrial Palace (1931)

    To Fritz Kahn (1888-1968), the diffusion of scientific knowledge and its practical applications required compelling visualizations that transformed complex ideas into terms accessible to a modern consumer public.  Man as Industrial Palace (Der Mensch als Industriepalast), the image for which Kahn is best known, first appeared in 1931 in the final volume of Kahn’s series The Life of Man.  Created for a non-specialist audience, the image was intended to hang in the modern home or classroom.
     
    Man as Industrial Palace graphically illustrates Kahn’s goal to define the workings of the human body “in light of modern science.”  The living body as it acts, works, thinks, and dreams is reconfigured according to the author-entrepreneur’s vision for a modern science and pedagogy that demanded a new approach to scientific illustration.  Rejecting the anatomist’s cadaver, Kahn’s illustration of the inner workings of the human body drew from the mechanical world of automobiles, cameras, and telephones that surrounded his middle-class readership.
     
    The deconstructed bodies illustrated in the Encyclopédie may have contained much visual information about their subjects, but they revealed little about the function of bodily systems.  Kahn built up the body for his readers, beginning with the atom and ending with the senses, each component of which functions as part of a fully integrated mechanic system.
     
    Kahn’s mechanic analogies are fraught with ambiguities: do they educate readers about their own bodies, or about the production and use of consumer goods that position their bodies in modernity?  Man as Industrial Palace presents a body of scientific knowledge that was also a microcosm of German society during the Weimar Republic (1919-1933).  Kahn’s hierarchical arrangement of the head and torso mirrored departments in a modern factory.  Men in suits debate in the centers of reasoning and decision-making, while women operate the switchboards of the nervous system.   Below, in the abdomen, uniformed laborers sort starches from fats in the guts of the body.  The educated, consumerist audience for such images more likely profited from the industrial complex than labored in its factories. For further images, please visit Der Mensch als Industriepalast: http://www.fritz-kahn.com/gallery/man-as-industrial-palace/.

  • WPA Image of Pittsburgh

    Rothstein, Arthur. "One of the many bridges spanning the Allegheny River. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania," July 1938. http://photogrammar.yale.edu/records/index.php?record=fsa2000007968/PP

     

    All the WPA Photographs You Could Desire

    For any of you interested in time-and-space-based visualizations of photography in America, Yale has put out their Photogrammar project for the whole run of WPA photos. As they themselves put it, "Photogrammar is a web-based platform for organizing, searching, and visualizing the 170,000 photographs from 1935 to 1945 created by the United State’s Farm Security Administration and Office of War Information (FSA-OWI)."

    Categories: 
    • Visual Knowledge
    • VMW
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  • Image of an Optical Toy

    https://flic.kr/p/fqFKH9. Image from the The Laura Hayes and John Wileman collection of pre-20th century optical toys and illusionary devices. Donated to the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics by Dr. Ralph Wileman. To learn more about this collection visit www.dlt.ncssm.edu/collections/toys/.

     

    "Digital Art Historian's Toolkit" from UCLA and The Getty

    This summer has seen any number of "digital art history" institutes going on, from Middlebury to UCLA. Miriam Posner, from UCLA, has just posted a very nice summary of current tools that might be of interest to any or all of you http://www.humanities.ucla.edu/getty/index.php/resources/the-digital-art-historians-toolkit/!

    Categories: 
    • Agency
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Faculty Work
    • VMW
    Tags: 
  • Otto Neurath (Austrian, 1882-1945). Modern Man in the Making, Knopf, 1939, p. 24

    Otto Neurath (Austrian, 1882-1945). Modern Man in the Making, Knopf, 1939, p. 24. Courtesy University of Pittsburgh Library System.

    • Otto Neurath (Austrian, 1882-1945). Modern Man in the Making, Knopf, 1939, p. 24
    • Otto Neurath (Austrian, 1882-1945). Modern Man in the Making, Knopf, 1939, p. 65.
    • Otto Neurath (Austrian, 1882-1945). Modern Man in the Making, Knopf, 1939, p. 25.
    • Otto Neurath (Austrian, 1882-1945). Modern Man in the Making, Knopf, 1939, p. 17.
    • Otto Neurath (Austrian, 1882-1945). Modern Man in the Making, Knopf, 1939, p. 85.
    • Otto Neurath (Austrian, 1882-1945). Modern Man in the Making, Knopf, 1939, p. 99.
    • Otto Neurath (Austrian, 1882-1945). Modern Man in the Making, Knopf, 1939, p. 53.
     

    ISOTYPE-Teaching Images

    Drew Armstrong

    Neurath, Modern Man in the Making (1939)

    Referring to the Biblical confusion of languages, Otto Neurath (1882-1945) regarded the “debabelization” of humanity as an urgent task of the modern era that would ultimately serve to create international harmony and understanding.  His proposed “International System of Typographic Picture Education” – ISOTYPE – was developed as a means to clarify “complex relations in society and economics, in biology, the engineering sciences, and a number of other fields.”

    In the context of post-World War I Europe, Neurath observed that mass media such as print advertising and film permitted the general public to acquire knowledge effortlessly through “optical impressions” – regardless of class or educational background.  Inspired by the potential of the modern world but deeply attuned to its pitfalls, Neurath advocated for the development of a common language of images as part of a standardized system of public education.  He described ISOTYPE as a “helping-language” – a coherent system of graphic signs for “teaching through the eye.”

    Neurath’s “teaching-images” were designed as part of a more general renovation of public education encompassing both classroom instruction for children and museum installations aimed at working class adults.  In Neurath’s Museum of Society and Economy (Vienna, 1925-1934), democracy and scientific literacy were to be fostered through displays of statistical data and other representations.  Establishing common understanding through the experience of a new kind of museum was a means to counter social fragmentation and the divisive effects of specialization.  Models for Neurath’s museum included Universal Expositions held in major European and North American cities since the mid-nineteenth century.  These events attracted huge international audiences, bringing a mass public into contact with the products of industry, science, art, and manufacturing.

    Inspired by the Encyclopédie but critical of its structure,  Neurath wanted his pictorial system to become part of a new encyclopedia project that would present information in a consistent, unambiguous manner intelligible to a global audience.  Its goal was “to give all men a common starting-point of knowledge ... to give simple and clear accounts of everything as a solid base for our thoughts and our acts, and to make us fully conscious of the conditions in which we are living.”

    Comenius, Orbis Sensualium Pictus (1658)

    First published in 1658, Comenius’s primer – Orbis Sensualium Pictus – was translated into numerous languages and was used for teaching Latin to children for over a century.  As a Protestant and early advocate for universal education, the point of Comenius’s work was to make the Bible accessible to all.  Neurath admired the pedagogical objectives of Comenius’s book but thought the images lacked clarity.

    Containing over 150 cheap woodcuts, the Orbis Sensualium Pictus illustrated “a world of things obvious to the senses, drawn in pictures.”  Each image is keyed into words and short phrases in English and Latin placed in facing columns of text, a technique intended to facilitate the acquisition of a basic vocabulary in a range of disciplines.

    As the reader proceeds from the beginning of the book through pages illustrating common animals and plants, principles of gardening, the parts of the home, the elements of painting, writing, and printing, she or he (Comenius believe that girls and boys had the same intellectual abilities) is exposed to increasingly sophisticated and modern concepts.  The student thus becomes acquainted with simple terms relating to geometry, astronomy, and philosophy while non-Christian belief-systems are illustrated at the end of the book in figures representing “Judaism” and “Mahometism.”

    Neurath, International Picture Language (1936)

    In size and composition, Neurath’s handbook – International Picture Language. The First Rules of Isotype – recalls primers like those of Comenius and through the use small images and a text written in Basic English, served a similar purpose.  Neurath, however, was intent not on teaching a verbal language through the use of images, but on developing a language of images based on standardized pictorial forms and consistent principles of graphic composition.

    For Comenius writing in seventeenth-century Europe, knowledge of Latin was essential for accessing specialized knowledge in most fields of scholarly inquiry.  Writing in the twentieth century between the two World Wars, Neurath proposed the development of a common language of images to serve the needs of business and science.

    Neurath’s pictorial language derived from more general investigations in the 1920s that sought to understand how graphic design and typography could respond to life in modern urban environments, characterized by increasing visual distraction and shortened attention spans. He thus eliminated ambiguous conventions like perspective in favor of simplified, two-dimensional symbols, and limited the use of colors in his graphics. Drawing on techniques exploited in mass media and popular culture, Neurath’s visual language attempted to make complex ideas accessible to a general public.

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