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.