Currently viewing the category: "History of Lines"

Ptak Science Books Post 1971

Cemetery four[Plan of a portion of the principal storey in the Poggio Gajella]

The plans of underground cities, of catacombs and cemeteries, share a certain biological appeal in their design with the plans of Medieval cities, or at least they seem so to me. Removed from their context and placed in an undifferentiated environment, the plans look very much like biological structures, and art. As maps of cities of the dead it is somewhat ironic that their geological chrysalis seem to indicate a biological structure.

And sometimes the images aren't so reminiscent of micro-structures as they are macro-structures, as in the case above. If you squint just a little and look at the Poggio Gajella you can visualize a cross section of the upper torso of a body, including an open mouth, with nasal cavity, throat, digestive system, and even intestines and egress routes–a picture of a person in the city of the dead.

The images below illustrating this ragged point are by Seroux d'Agincourt, (1730-1814), and appear in his Histoire de l'art par les monuments, depuis sa décadence au IVme siècle jusqu' à son renouvellement au XVIme (Paris, 1825). The images illustrate the article "catacombs" from the Encyclopedia Britannica, in the great/standard 11th edition, from Project Gutenberg:

Read Full Article →

JF Ptak Science Books Post 1960

I was shocked to investigate this seemingly magically-produced engraving under magnification–it was a small piece of inset work used to illustrate an idea within a much larger overall engraving. The detail is about a 5% cropping of the full image:

Square detail982

It is a subset of this detail:

Square detail981
Which in turn is a detail from this beautiful work which is itself a four-by-four inch detail in a larger engraving, the footprint of an elevation of the Sepolcro di Caio Cestio, which was printed in 1840.

Square 983

The craftsman who produced this engraving incised 250 lines on one side of this 4-inch-square, then proceeded to incise another 250 lines on the other–or so. This means that there are something on the order of 62,000 (or thereabouts) squares produced by the draftsman in order to make a mostly-black background for the image.

The plan is for the pyramidal tomb of Caius Cestius who was a monied Roman who demanded that for the disbursement of his will to be complete had to have this tombstone built to himself in a prescribed period of time–mostly very quickly. The result has been captured by Piranessi and others–a very sharp-pointed pyramid about 130′ at its base and 145′ tall. When finished the builders incised their victory and documented it on the side of the pyramid so:

Opus absolutum ex testamento diebus CCCXXX, arbitratu (L.) Ponti P. f. Cla (udia tribu), Melae heredis et Pothi l(iberti). (“The work was completed, in accordance with the will, in 330 days, by
the decision of the heir [Lucius] Pontus Mela, son of Publius of the Claudia, and Pothus, freedman”.)

All I really wanted to comment on here though is the craftsmanship of producing this finely-lined and remarkable detail

JF Ptak Science Books Post 1933

Happel map895 detail;
[Detail of E.W. Happel's map in his Relationes Curiosae (1675), plates 23 in the Peabody Library's The World Encompassed, 1952.]]

I’m not sure how my thinking went from Athanasius Kircher’s Earth skeleton to the magnificent Eberhard Werner Happel 1675 world map of ocean currents featuring what might be the largest California ever seen in the history of cartography, but, well, the thinking wound up there, (and this leaving out Bishop Burnett’s perfect primordial world egg in the process). This was intended as a simply post following up yesterday’s bit in the Blank and Missing Things series relating to California as an island and the missing land mass connecting the non-island to the rest of North America. Nominally California usually appears as a stubby/plump infected-appendix-sized bit either attached/not to the continent, but the California in the Happel (1647-1730, a man of math and medicine) map is larger than the rest of North America from the California gulf to the Atlantic. Of course that also includes all of Alaska and then some imagined lands as well, but, still the mass of it is labelled “California” stands by itself larger than South America, Africa (which looks surprisingly good for the age of the rendering), China (which is very very small) and Russia (which lacks virtually all of Russia east if the Urals). The only land mass that comes close to California’s size is the Antarctic regions, which is drawn here as a solid land mass including the scant points of data for New Zealand and Australia and whatever other island was found in southerly South Sea travels, all drawn together and fitted into an enormous continent.

Happel map895[The full image of the Happel map]

Although there weren’t many explorers yet to go up the west coast of North America in 1675, other maps of the period render the coastline in a more accurate way than this. The point of the map, really, is to display what was known of the ocean currents, some of which was correct but a lot of which is not–though it is a very good attempt given the state of the data collection. The source of this map,the Peabody Library’s The World Encompassed (1952) calls it the “first chart of ocean currents”, which I think is incorrect–and it is here where our favorite 17th century science-Jesuit comes into play, for it is in Athanasius Kircher’s Mundus Subterreaneus (1642) that the first map of ocean currents occurs.

Tramerzinus map896_edited-1 detailed

[Michael Tramezinus's map of the Western Hemisphere (1534) showing a mostly non-existent western coastline of North America along with a stringy California--but given the time and the available information, it is an excellent map that is not afraid to define unknown lands with a squiggly line. Source, plate 35 from The World Encompassed.]

Kircher is a highly problematic character in the history of science. He is at times wonderful and insightful and creative; at other times he is boring, pedantic, grueling, wrong, fanciful, and stingy with attribution. I’m no Kircher scholar, but it seems to me after al this time that sometimes he writes stuff that he couldn’t've meant, that he absolutely knew better than to assert–but there it is, anyway, written as gospel truth (and the Gospels and related religious mythio-stories evidently demanded obedience to their own truths, in which Kircher complies) . This is one of the problems with the Fra Athanasius.

Tramerzinus map896
[The full detail of the Tramezinus map.]

In his Mundus Subterraneus Kircher presents the true first map of ocean currents ( Tabula Geographico-Hydrographica motus Oceani, currents, abyssos, montes igniuomos in universe orbe indican), some bits being correct and others not so. He rejects the Aristotelian concept of condensation, and figures that the accumulation of snow/rain/dew is simply not enough water to feed the rivers and lakes and oceans, so he devised subterranean oceans and rivers with vast stores of water to feed the waters topside. His hydrophyllaciae is one of four components of an underground Earth that closely coincides with the four elements and with the human condition, much in the tradition of the Medieval body/spirit approach to the understanding of the world system.

Kircher current maop
[Source: image from the mapseller site of Sebastian Hidalgo Sola, Buenos Aires, here.]

John Edward Fletcher, in his A Study of the Life and Works of Athanasius Kircher, ‘Germanus Incredibilis …” describes Kircher creating an “Earth Skeleton”which he dresses according to science and ecclesiastical needs, finding a vis spermatica, the launching of all matter from the primeval chaos of primordial Earth. The Mundus addresses this and many other things–it is, in all of this and all of its faults (as Fletcher states), a great repository of all geological knowledge of the time. There is the good with the bad in the Mundus, “a conglomeration of exotic facts and fiction, along with odd scraps of truth and the occasional flash of brilliance” (Fletcher, p. 172), and the ocean currents map is one of those bits.

Kircher undertakes an enormous and probably impossible job in this book, but may actually be kept from getting to the big point by depending upon himself too much. As Fletcher points out (page 171), the Mundus‘ third edition of 1671 failed to take into account the major advances in fields touching on the book’s contents, in particular, the work of Mariotte and Varenius, which was much superior to that of Kircher on the ocean currents, neither of which are discussed or even mentioned in the new edition.

This was a very round-about way of getting to the California-part of the Happel map, but the attribution of the World Encompassed as “the first” of its kind needed to be addressed.


Here’s an interesting read on the Kircher/Happel maps: from

JF Ptak Science Books Pot 1929

The history of people forming lines to perform a task is an integral part of the general History of Lines. Certainly this sort of activity has been a prevalent feature of the human experience, whether it was done for commercial gain, or for construction, or betterment of the social cauldron, or in work, or whether the workers were compensated in some way or were enslaved–the idea of collective and enforced lining-up-for-a-task is about as old as humanity.

It would be interesting to know what the percentage of those lines were "happy" or "satisfied". Say in the 10×1023 lines that have been formed over the last 10,000 years that 9% of them were constituted by people who enjoyed being there. Offhand I'd say that this would be a very liberal estimate.

Line food relief
I wonder how long these lines in the modern times would stretch? My guess is that the line formed for construction of food or agriculture or whatever else could be thought of would not be nearly so long as those lines formed for killing. Or defence. That said, it is easy to picture long lines of Prussian Blue set up against British Red, or the Blue stacked up against the Butternut, the long lines making their way over 3/4 mile of open field to a small stone fence at the top of Cemetery Ridge–harder to imagine those front lines being ripped apart by supersonic pieces of lead, and to have the line keep moving forward, the casualty-breaks to it plugged up by the lines of red or blue or gray moving in unison behind the first line. It seems impossible to imagine "British Grenadiers" playing in your head while marching slowly towards another line in front of you, kneeling, and firing into you, trying to break your line, magnificent and completely insane.

But getting back to line length question–this is tricky, but if you were to consider that during WWI that some 10-15,000 miles of trenches were constructed and that, say, a thousand miles of trenches were in use at any one time post-1916, and that those trenches were filled with soldiers, then perhaps those would be the longest human lines. They were humans in lines in ditches, trying to not get killed and then trying to kill the other side in a simple equation of one line fighting the other.

There were also very long lines of advancing troops, armies on the move with men and countless supplies, enormous numbers of soldiers and warriors, the fighters for Zululand or the infantry of Napoleon, almost all getting smaller and smaller as time and war wore them down. (A very famous line by the statistician Charles Joseph Minard shows the devastating effect of time/weather on Napoleon's army to and from Moscow, the thinness of the final line segment showing death and destruction.)

There is another sort of long line that appears in the 20th century that matches up with lines quite similar to it that had appeared somewhat earlier, though under different circumstances. The story of this line–the production line–is one of a limited line segment of human beings put to work on a basically-infinite line of repetitive work. The production line began to appear in rudimentary form in the making of the needles in the 18th century, and then more effectively in musket manufacturing in the late 1850's and through the Civil War, and in the McCormick reaper works in the 1860's, and then far more famously and with greater effect in the making of the Singer sewing machine (in the 1870's/early 1880's). The process was revolutionized by Henry Ford in the 1911-1916 period, when his production lines of relatively-still automaton workers and their moving work increased the production numbers of the Model T from 53,000 (and $690/car) to 585,000 ($360/car) in just six years.

The idea made Ford into a king of sorts, heroic and iconic, and to his detriment he believed these things of himself as well. It took a decade and a half for the most popular culture response to make a vt appearance in regards to Fordism and the development of mechanization and mass production to things beyond consumables like cars and rifles and bikes and sewing machines, and the picture wasn't a very pretty one. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley was perhaps the most chilling of these assessments, though the more popular reactions like Rene Clair (in his movie A nous la liberte, 1931) and Charlie Chaplin ( Modern Times, 1936) were less abrasive in their endings, though the visual imagery of the workhouse is what stayed with people.

A nous la liberte892
Clair and Chaplin both presented the new work environment in light of an old one–the old one being the prison work system. Clair especially showed the great similarities between the two–the marching to work stations, the silence, the overseer, the matching uniforms, the very controlled motions of the worker, the non-lunch period, and so on. Chaplin did this too, making these connections through laughter that may have led to realization that the laughed-at stuff wasn't all that laughable. Its the imagery of these movies that made them important, I think; much more so than their endings, which produced happy/whistling/victorious workers.

Chaplin modern times

You can't spell "numbers" without "numb".


Read Full Article →

JF Ptak Science Books Post 1902 Part of the History of Lines series

Rolevinck canon
This work was one of the early best-sellers from the time of the Incunabula, a book that went into 33 editions between 1475 and 1500, and into five different languages, and a number of different authors/annotators and publishers–a book with a very full publishing history. The Fasiculus temporum, by Werner Rolevinck (a Monk and renowned historian at Cologne, 1425-1502), and printed originally in 1474, is an early history reaching back to the Roman times, and perhaps one of the very earliest chronological histories. It was a compendium of reaches into dim dust, histories including plagues, epidemics, diseases, monsters and other interesting bits.

It was also illustrated; some of the woodcuts were used several times in the course of the book; many were quite interesting. For example, the image above, showing the storming and siege of a town, features the normal allotment of soldiers, plus–extraordinarily–a cannon.

What brings us to the History of Lines series is that the structure of the book is very impressive–and complex. It must have been quite a chore to set into type, as the text lines vary impressively–that, and the chronological nature of the work has text running normally, and then top-to-bottom, occasionally upside down, and then quite frequently in circles. Anyone with any experience in letterpress printing could quickly appreciate the effort it took to put this book into print.

Rolevinck text

Read Full Article →

JF Ptak Science Books Daily Dose series [Also part of the History of Lines series]

So, Nat'rists observe a flea

hath smaller fleas that on him prey,

And these have smaller fleas to bite 'em, and so on ad infinitum.

–Jonathan Swift, 1733

There are a lot of triangles in this fabulous photo of the construction of the Empire State Building in 1931–a lot. At least fifty–more if you use your imagination or get your pinhole specs out. It is simply an excellent photo in which I'm seeing things of a reducible nature–not in the sense of a Sierpinski triangle/sieve/gasket, obviously–but just a simple exercise along those lines (ha!), experiencing the image by recognizing different sorts of boundaries within it.

Lines empire state bldg

[Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections, here.]

JF Ptak Science Books Post 1833 (Part of a series on the History of Lines)

Minkowski raum-zeitHyphens ( – ) are very old in the history of printing, going back to the lucky Johannes Gutenberg–and much further back than that in practice, appearing as a gull wing mark to Greek grammarians, though it doesn’t appear as a word, or at least so according to the OED, until 1608. But what I’d like to talk about right now in this blog’s first and probably only hyphenic post is the joining of two words to make a bigger/better word, not an adverb-adjective bit, or a syllabification usage, or as a prefix (anti-, non-, co-, pre- and so on), and definitely not as a way to hide a letter or part of a word (as in “G-d” or “the V- word”).

MinkowskiIt might be argued that Hermann Minkowski (1864-1909, Ph.D. under F. von Lindemann at Konigsberg at age 21 and a brilliant thinker who died tragically young of appendicitis) created one of the most significant/important hyphenated words in the history of hyphenated words. This came about on his paper on the work of former student Albert Einstein’s 1905 STR, a significant contribution to that field and one which helped develop the path to the theory of general relativity in 1916. The paper (1907/8) was “Die Grundgleichungen für die elektromagnetischen Vorgänge in bewegten Körpern“, published in Nachrichten von der Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften zu Göttingen, Mathematisch-Physikalische Klasse, pp:53–111 (and translated here as”The Fundamental Equations for Electromagnetic Processes in Moving Bodies”, and translated by Megh Nad Sah), and it was here (on page 63, section five, see above) that the two words were linked for what6 I think was the first time. (The general idea goes back quite some distance, and is very nicely reviewed by R.C. Archibald in 1914 in his article “Time as a fourth dimension” in the Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society, volume 20, page 149, who records that it goes back at least to Jean d’Alembert in 1754 and Joseph Louis Lagrange in his Theory of Analytic Functions (first edition of 1797 and a second in 1813 , writing that “One may view mechanics as a geometry of four dimensions, and mechanical analysis as an extension of geometric analysis”), and to Immanuel Kant and William R. Hamilton’s quaternions, and others. ) I am not sure when the term is collapsed (“Space and time”, “Space Time”, “Space-Time”, “Spacetime”, Spacetimes”), but John Wheeler does away with the hyphen in his Spacetime Physics in 1963, though I’m sure the disappearance and conjunctions take place long before that (though Schroedinger was using it in 1950).. J.A. Isenberg refers to a different set of hyphens for this idea in his 1980 article “Wheeler-Einstein-Mach Spacetimes”, which appeared in Physical Review (D), 24 (2), 251-256, and which frames another aspect of the, making use of the plural which had appeared some time before.

Now, on the other end of the spectrum comes a story from the Velvet Revolution of Czechoslovakia–it is another very quick rendition of a complicated history, like the above, but it will serve the purpose as a section in the History of Lines. The Revolution was coincident with the collapse of the Warsaw Pact governments coming with the demise of the USSR, and occurred in November and December 1989. Following the state’s first free, democratic elections, it was faced with what to call itself. Czechoslovakia, Czecho-Slovakia, Czech-Slovakia–it was a severe issue illustrating the concerns of the Czech and Slovaks, not the least of which was the language identifying whether the sign connecting the two words was a “hyphen” or a “dash”. There were language and cultural barriers, and what finally happened was that Czechoslovakia ceased to exist, giving way to two states on 1 July, 1993: the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The hyphen issue was of course just indicative of much more complex concerns, but minor mirrors like this–and, say, the different names that each side gave to the revolution, the Czechs preferring “Velvet” and the Slovaks using “Gentile”)–and so it all ended in what is referred to as the “Velvet Divorce”.

JF Ptak Science Books Post 1791 [Part of the History of Dots series.]

Def. 1.1. A point is that which has no part.
Def. 1.2. A line is a breadthless length.
Def. 1.3. The extremities of lines are points

Euclid, The Elements

Please see the associated post on the History of the West and the History of Lines: Telegraphs, Railraods, Treaties, and Barbed Wire.

I really don't mean to tangle this post up in what might be one of the most profoundly significant books ever written, mainly because the I'm talking about "dots" and not "points", though several points do come into play in the story.

The dots come into the story with the finishing of the great Overland Route, the Transcontinental Railroad, which was built between 18631 and 1869, and which via massive construction tied together various lines to make the fist continuous connections by rail between the American Atlantic and Pacific coasts. The construction for the vast missing connecting chunks were undertaken by the Central Pacific Railroad of California and the Union Pacific Railroad, building (respectively) their ends extending from Oakland (CA) to Council Bluffs (IA). (A map of the railroad line can be seen below in a clickable whole and then again in the "continued reading" part of the post in more detailed sections. Interestingly this map shows both a plan and profile of the line, and when you take a closer look at the bottom part of the map it is easy then to see why the Central Pacific had so many delays getting through the Sierra Nevada.)

The building of the railroad line was notoriously difficult, undertaken by companies desperate to build their ends fast and not using the best materials or doing the best work (with millions needing to be spent on repair of the Central Pacific effort as soon as the line was completed), or treating the largely immigrant workforce (mainly Chinese and Irish) fairly. But the job did get done and it got done relatively quickly, considering too that the first primitive locomotives didn't appear in the U.S. until 1831–it didn't take long at all to produce thousands of mile of line as well as the sophisticated machinery to run on them. The great engineer Oliver Evans waged a little war on the future by allowing himself to see the following:

"The time will come when people will travel in stages moved by steam engines from one city to another, almost as fast as birds can fly, 15 or 20 miles an hour…. A carriage will start from Washington in the morning, the passengers will breakfast at Baltimore, dine at Philadelphia, and sup in New York the same day…. Engines will drive boats 10 or 12 miles an hour, and there will be hundreds of steamers running on the Mississippi, as predicted years ago." –Oliver Evans, 1800 [Evans built the first stationary steam engine in 1800, and then in 1804 built the first steam engine powered boat.]

He wasn't talking about railroads per se, as the steam locomotive hadn't been invented yet. But 30 years later or so there was the first appearance of these machines, and then another thirty years after that they were running across the United States, which was a remarkable turnaround in the economy of transportation.

The very end of this story though is told in dots. When the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific met in the lonely Promontory Summit, Utah, there was an on-site celebration where the two lines were famously tied together using a golden spike. (Actually there were two gold, one silver one blended gold/silver, and one plain spike used int he ceremony.) The news of the event was carried out to the rest of the country via another new and remarkable medium, the transcontinental telegraph, which had been completed in October 1861 and which allowed nearly simultaneous communication between the two American coasts, with this innovation also taking place about 25 years after the general invention of the telegraph.)

It is interesting to note that it was during the Lincoln administration–in the earliest part of Lincoln's presidency–that these two great unifying elements were established. The railroad was started in the first year of the Civil War, and the telegraph finished just months into the conflict. It is ironic that the first communication going west-to-east by Stephen J. Field (on 24 October 1861) to President Lincoln spoke of the medium's great power in uniting the country, if only East and West: "will be the means of strengthening the attachment which binds both the East and the West to the Union". Which may or may not have been true–communications wouldn't necessarily unite, as the country was already deeply at war with itself North and South, and there were already ample telegraphs enough existing between the two that did not manage to keep the country firmly within itself.

Back to Promontory–the proceedings of the celebration were "broadcast" by telegraph, the event being very heavily listened-to news. There were speeches of course and then toward the end there was a sermon followed by a long entreaty to the almighty. That finished, the Central Pacific top man, Leland Stanford, was to drive home the final golden spike uniting the lines. When the spike was driven and finished, the news would be related by the telegraph as so:

"Dot. Dot. Dot."

Three dots would signal the end of the work, and the completion of the railroad. Stanford reportedly missed on his first swing with his silver hammer, but the news was sent out anyway, saying the work was done. The signifier relating the connection of thousands of miles of railway track being three simple dots.

Hart stereoview #355, detail. Courtesy National Park Service.
Hart stereoview #355, detail, "The Last Rail – The Invocation. Fixing the Wire, May 10, 1869."
Courtesy National Park Service. [Source for image, here.]


1. Abraham Lincoln signed the Pacific Railway Act in 1862 which set the stage for the building of the Transcontinental.

Read Full Article →

JF Ptak Science Books Post 1779

On Evacuees, Excludees, and "Segregees": Closing an Ugly Chapter in U.S. History–the Japanese Internment Camps, 1942-1945

As of April 30, 1945, the U.S. government allocated a total of $39 million to relocate 120,000 or so Japanese "evacuees" from "evacuation centers" back to their "normal homes". That comes to about $275.00 per person: but that is mostly allocated to payment for personnel, because, really, all that was happening was that these people were being sent back home somewhere, or if their homes/farms had been undersold from under them, to somewhere not-their-home. Of course the figure is slightly inflated, because of all of those Japanese interred during this time nearly 10% of them volunteered to fight in the U.S. Armed Forces, so for those who survived after serving in some of America's most highly-decorated units of all time, Uncle Sam was paying the bill to send those young men home. But offsetting the Americans of Japanese decent who fought in the war were about another 10,000 babies born in the "segregation centers", so the numbers stay fairly-well the same. (I cannot offhand find any numbers on the numbers of people who died in the camps, or for that matter what happened to their remains after the camps (and camp cemeteries) were closed. I do not know if that was a government expense–to move the coffin and pay for reburial–or if that expense became a private affair.)

Dillon Myer, who was the director of the War Relocation Authority, testified in Congress on 30 April 1945 that it was time for the "relocation centers" to be closed, and for the "evacuees" to go home. And to go home on schedule.

"Not later than 15 months, after revocation of the general exclusion orders, all evacuee property services to persons other than excludees (including segregees) will terminate, and all evacuee property warehouses not utilized for the property of such persons will be emptied…"

I expect that few of the American Japanese wanted to linger.

Read Full Article →

JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post [Part of the History of Lines series]

I was quickly struck by the use of lances to establish a depth and perspective in this small woodcut on the title page of Leonhart Fronsperger's Kriegsordung und Regiment…(1564), and how I have seen this device used many times over he years. The artist here is the great Jobst Amman, and the book happens to be one of the most important works in military science published in the 16th century, addressing topics from troop movement to military economics to administration. (It is also one of the earliest books to address the subjects of pyrotechnics and rocketry, the later in the second chapter, "Vom Gescuetz und Feuerwerk".)

The above is a detail from the title page:

Lance311All that said, I'm fixed on the lances, and how they remind me somewhat of Paolo Uccello (1397-1475)–who is one of the founders of perspective–and his triptych The Battle of San Romano, with the third part of the trio in particular.. The painting was intended to be viewed together, depicting the battle (more-or-less) at morning/noon/night, the parts of which are shown below in that order. The lances (especially in the "Counterattack") are meant to heighten the sense of perspective–and the effect of the lances having basically no detail and being in brilliant color enhances that effect. (In the first part of the triptych Uccello uses the alignment of dead soldiers and dropped lances to the same effect–particularly the ones beneath the hooves and in the vicinity of Niccolo de Tolentino's spectacularly white and "solid" horse. (The business of the lack of detail in Uccello has been famously addressed in William Gaddis' The Recognitions. I've written about Uccello frequently here, particularly in this note.)

The left panel

  • Niccolò Mauruzi da Tolentino unseats Bernardino della Ciarda at the Battle of San Romano (dating uncertain, about 1435 to 1455), tempera on wood, 182 × 320 cm, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

The center panel

Read Full Article →