Visualizing knowledge

     
 

Paul Michel – Johannes Depnering – Marc Winter

“Visualizing knowledge”

Abstract

Ever since William J. T. Mitchell and Gottfried Boehm coined the terms “pictorial” and “iconic turn” respectively, the understanding of visualization was dramatically broadened within the disciplines of the humanities. Despite this, an even sharper multidisciplinary tool-box is urgently needed. Encyclopaedias provide an excellent base for investigating interdependencies between text, picture, their multimedia character and respective historical development. Using an analytical approach, this contribution presents a three-layered grid, specifying the pictorial object concerned, the functions intended and the visualization techniques. The descriptive technique used considers the relationship between these and overcomes the limits of an image-focused typology (e.g. mere classification of charts and graphs). While only a few examples are discussed, the types of illustration are widespread and can be found in both European and Asian encyclopaedias.

W. J. T. Mitchell, Picture Theory: Essays on Verbal and Visual Representation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994.

Gottfried Boehm, “Die Wiederkehr der Bilder” in: Was ist ein Bild?, hg. von Gottfried Boehm, München 1994, pp. 11–38.

Index

1. Illustrations – underestimated tools of knowledge transfer

1.1 Media-related constraints, possibilities, deficiencies

1.2 Areas we have excluded

2. Methods: Establishing a three-dimensional grid

(O) The dimension of objects

(F) Functions

(T) Tools and techniques

(H) Subsidiary tools

3. List of categories resulting from our three-dimensional grid

4. Background knowledge, traditions of understanding, and history

5. Case studies

5.1 Bloodletting man (Aderlassmännchen)

5.2 Fugitive sheets (Aufklappbilder)

5.3 Drawing instruction

5.4 Warnings, prohibitions, recommendations

5.5 Choropleth Map

5.6 Aide mémoire – Mnemonic function of images

 

 
     
 

1. Illustrations – underestimated tools of knowledge transfer

Encyclopaedias, irrespective of their origin, topic or focus, have a remarkably common interest in illustrations. As opposed to the well-organised encyclopaedic texts, which often include reading directions, organisational plans and paratexts explaining why and to whom the book is important, illustrations are not the focus of encyclopaedia research. Thereby, at a first glance the wealth and variety of pictures used in universal encyclopaedias is overwhelming. They encompass human figures of different professions, cross sections of mining sites, the portrait of George Washington, a boy performing a backflip depicted in six different positions, and the friendly united tracks of fox and rabbit, dog and cat. A pie chart displays the different components of public spending, and in a German encyclopaedia a Japanese woodcut depicts a Geisha. Maps show differently-coloured regions, a virus visibly attacks a cell, and the sky appears occupied by constellations. Disturbing and confusing from an analytical point of view, all of these illustrations assume a transfer of knowledge.

This essay aims to discuss a typology of illustrations, and with this, provide analytical tools that allow the interpretation of pictures used in the specific context of encyclopaedias. Rather than investigating the quality of pictures or imaging procedures, this approach focuses on the process of the visualization of knowledge.

The source material, therefore, consists of illustrations which function as visual aids to encyclopaedic entries and to which encyclopaedia makers solely contributed an explanatory value. Using Michel et al.’s (2007)* broad definition of encyclopaedias, we include any encyclopedias or similar works, published between 1500 and 2000, in which complex knowledge is refined to a level that is generally understandable. Analysis of their illustrations may reveal, on a visual level, knowledge transfer and the permeability of cultural borders and, at the same time, the limits of textual explanations. Through this, we may obtain more information about readers and consumers, and last but not least about the encyclopaedia-making process.

When applied to the aforementioned illustrations, non-reality based typological differentiations are obvious. A group of pictures visualizes quantity by using size (e.g. professional statistics, allocating a different size to the figures representing farmers and employees). A cross section discloses what is hidden in reality, and a portrait revives persons long dead but of historical importance. The same assumption of reader-friendly forms governs choropleth maps, in which statistical data is assigned certain colours or patterns and applied to geographical locations on a map. The celestial chart has no real counterpart, but identifying specific constellations helps to structure an amorphous assembly. The example of the Geisha, however, also may be seen as a mere garnish to an already poor textual explanation. (Reflecting on the Geisha example, it can be seen that not all illustrations are important in knowledge transfer.)

*) Unvorgreifliche Gedanken zu einer Theorie des Enzyklopädischen – Enzyklopädien als Indikatoren für Veränderungen bei der Organisation und der gesellschaftlichen Bedeutung von Wissen, in: Allgemeinwissen und Gesellschaft, hg. von Paul Michel / Madeleine Herren / Martin Rüesch, Aachen: Shaker Verlag 2007, S. 1–61. >>> PDF-File

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1.1 Media-related constraints, possibilities, deficiencies

While language produces abstractions, the picture has to specify, and while texts can claim coherence in argumentation (the so-called thematic progression), pictures provide simultaneous access to an object. Pictures need additional tools for presenting causality (e.g. by displaying different steps in cartoon-like illustrations), and have many more problems to display e.g. negations. Moreover, psychological and cultural differences surface in the analytical setting: pictures address the human ability of spatial orientation, they claim authenticity, and overcome the limits of literacy and fluency in more than one language.

Example 1: The picture allows simultaneous views of the object, which would necessarily be difficult to express in the medium of language: Ein zentrales Teil enthält zwei rechtwinklig gekreuzte Wellenstummel-Paare, über die es mit je einer der beiden Wellen gelenkig verbunden ist. Die Wellen haben je ein gabelförmiges Ende, deren Querbohrungen je eine Wellenstummel-Paar umfassen. (http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kreuzgelenk)

Source: Die Welt von A bis Z. Ein Lexikon für die Jugend, für Schule und Haus, hg. von Richard Bamberger, Fritz Brunner; Heinrich Lades, Reutlingen: Ensslin & Laiblin / Wien: Österr. Bundesverlag / Wien: Verlag für Jugend und Volk / Aarau: Sauerländer 1953, s. v. ‘Kardangelenk’

Example 2 : The word bridge can easily be defined using language. (A bridge is a structure built to span physical obstacles for the purpose of providing passage over the obstacle.) Using visualization, one has to choose a type of bridge to depict, although a prototype does not exist.

Source: The English Duden. A Pictorial Dictionary, Mannheim/Wien/Zürich: Bibliographisches Institut 1960; Tafel 210 (= p. 378/79).

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1.2 Areas we have excluded

The notion of visualization can be made more precise if one takes into account what the actual achievement of the visualization is. The various elements/phases can be distinguished, although they interact.

(1) The illustrator must have expert knowledge.

(2) There are technical devices that are needed to make the invisible visible, whether because the object is not accessible to our eye (too small: microscope; too far away: telescope), or because the object is invisible on principle (‘imaging technologies’ in the broad sense, where an apparatus yields a picture, e.g. the cloud chamber (also known as the Wilson chamber) or medical imaging (X-rays, Magnetic Resonance Imaging etc.).

(3) There are intellectual means, which either illustrate a visually accessible object more clearly (exploded view drawing of a weaving loom; comparison of river lengths), or produce a visible model from an explanandum that otherwise cannot be perceived visually (purchasing power, qualities of experience, truth table). Another aspect of visualizing concerns didactic and artistic creativity. It is the main focus of our study.

Example: In order to compare the lengths of various rivers, they are taken from their natural environment on a geographical map, stretched out and placed next to each other. Source: Schweizer Pestalozzi-Kalender, Bern 1930, S. 178.

(4) There are various types of technical realization, i.e. the graphical method, when depicting objects that are already visible (woodcut, etching, photography etc.).

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2. Methods: Establishing a three-dimensional grid

To develop a typology useful for the analysis of pictures found in encyclopaedias, we suggest the introduction of a three-dimensional grid as the first step. The three dimensions encompass the object (O) to be visualised, the tools and technique (T) used for translating the context in question into pictures, and the function (F): what the viewer is intended to understand from the image.

Of course, these three dimensions are interrelated. Certain objects demand certain techniques, and not all pictorial functions apply to the same object. To give an example, verification strategy as the intended function (F) asks for a reality-based technique (T) (e.g. nature printing or photography), and the object (O) should be a unique specimen or historical event.

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(O) The dimension of objects

Within this approach, the concept of ‘object’ is used as a logical category, and thus refers not only to singular ‘things’ in this world, but also immaterial entities, processes, mathematical functions and deontic statements. As part of our three-dimensional grid, there are two types of objects to differentiate:

(1) The object exists on principle in a visual medium and is either:

(1a) immediately accessible (e.g. the face of the current president of the United States);

(1b) difficult to access (e.g. the concealed components of a machine; entities too small to be seen with the naked eye, such as microbes);

(1c) inaccessible (e.g. the church Cluny III, dismantled 1798).

(2) The object exists only in a linguistic medium (e.g. statistical data, pedigree, logical relationships).

Example of (O) = Logical relationships – The topic is not a specific 'if/then' constellation or similar, but rather logic itself.

Source: Georg Reisch, Margarita Phylosophica tractans de omni genere scibili, Basel 1517.

The square of opposition (Apuleius, 2nd century CE) illustrates the logical relationships of propositions each with the same subject and predicate. The illustration of the “Margarita Philosophica” by Gregor Reisch uses as subject bos (ox) and as predicate est animal (is an animal). The topper two circles contain the universal propositions (omnis/nullus bos est animal – every/no ox is an animal), the lower two the particular propositions (quidam bos (non) est animal – a certain ox is (not) an animal). The circles on the left contain the positive propositions, and those on the right, the negative. Statements that are ‘contradictory’, i.e. mutually exclusive, are diagonally opposite. Propositions with opposed predicates are arranged horizontally. The relationship between these is referred to as ‘contrary’ (universal propositions) and ‘subcontrary’ (particular propositions). The particular propositions are logically contained in the universal ones and thus referred to as ‘subaltern’ to them. All these logical relationships can be listed in a spreadsheet. However, the illustration conceived by Apuleius is much more compact and memorable.

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(F) Functions

Functions are not limited to the idea that pictures enhance the understanding or attractiveness of textual descriptions. In fact, functions have their own rationale.

As a rough guide, a few function areas can be identified:

(1) Functions regarding the organization of knowledge. Tree diagrams, for example, create, rather than display, classification structures.

(2) Functions regarding the relationship to the user of the document. Classically, the use of pictures as a strategy of authentification or for indoctrination.

(3) Functions regarding the knowledge objects. This is the main focus of our study and further differentiation can be seen in the list of categories below.

Pictures often have multiple functions. To clarify the function, one has to ask: What knowledge does the user of the encyclopedia gain from the visualization of the object?

Example 1: Rigging of a sailing ship. The picture, on the one hand, must show what such a ship looks like; on the other hand, it has the (semantic) function to name the sails in their different locations.

Der Volks-Brockhaus. Deutsches Sach- und Sprachwörterbuch für Schule und Haus. 9., verbesserte Auflage, Leipzig 1941.

Example 2: Diagram of the heart

Source: Sancai Tuhui Section “shenti 身體”, juan 1.

XIN TU 心圖 The diagram xin tu illustrates the human heart and the blood vessels attached to it. The five vessels are explained as the origin of the circulation (xi 系) in the five organs fundamental to Chinese medicine: the heart xin 心, lung fei 肺, liver gan 肝, kidney shen 腎 and spleen pi 脾. The two texts explain the heart both anatomically (text on the right) and as the central organ, providing textual evidence from the medical manual Huangdi Neijing Suwen 黃帝內經素文 (chapter eight “linglan midian lun”《靈蘭秘典論》) confirming the heart as the most important of all human organs (junzhu zhi guan 君主之官), governing the other organs (text on the left). The text on the right explains that the heart weighs 12 liang (442 grams), is situated close to the fifth vertebra and below the lung and has seven openings, which are not all indicated in the illustration.

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(T) Tools and techniques

Objects are visually represented through the use of specific techniques, which, again, have their own rationale and rules of transformation. These rules of transformation revoke a hierarchical approach, since they often combine different visualization procedures, always dependent on the technologies available at the time. To give an example, geographical maps (or other models of an object) can be coloured, animated or arranged in a sequence with the consequence of gaining a dynamic, procedural character (e.g. European expansion in the Americas).

Example: Cross section of a mine

Source: Vom Bergkwerck xij Bücher ... durch den Hochgelerten vnd Weitperümpten Herrn Georgium Agricolam … jetzundt aber verteütscht, Basel Froben/Bischof 1557.

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(H) Subsidiary tools

Techniques of transformation are sometimes explicitly inserted into the picture. Such subsidiary tools function as an aid to enhance the understanding of the viewer and make knowledge transfer visible. These subsidiary tools, therefore, form their own analytical category (H), despite their close relationship with tools and technologies.

Example 1: Diagram of the equipment necessary when on a horse

Source: Sancai Tuhui Section “qiyong 器用”, juan 5: “ma shang zhu qi tu 馬上諸器圖”

The image is one of very few in the Sancai Tuhui which provide a legend in the picture indicating the elements depicted. The Horse is equipped with a saddle an 鞍, bridle jiang 韁, stirrups tadeng 踏鐙 (Sancai Tuhui uses an alternative writing of the character for deng), and bells ling 鈴. A whip bian 鞭 lies between the horse’s legs.

Example 2: Jacob’s staff: Auxiliary lines show the use of this instrument for measuring a tower.

Jacob Koebel, Jacobs Stab künstlich und gerecht zu machen/ vnd gebrauchen ... Franckfurt am Meyn/ Bei Christian Egenolph. MDXXXI [1531] Source [www BSB]

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3. List of categories resulting from our three-dimensional grid

As explained above, a three-dimensional grid provides the matrix for the creation of sub-categories. A preliminary selection of pictorial lemmata in different European and Asian encyclopaedias leads to further specification into sub-categories presented below. Although the terminology needs further discussion, the research design promises an adequate balance between generalisation and specification in the (re)use, creation and application of illustrations in encyclopaedic texts.

Available here: enzyklopaedie {apetail} hotmail {dot} com

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4. Background knowledge, traditions of understanding, and history

The viewer should keep in mind the hermeneutic sentence by Goethe: “One only sees what one already knows and understands.” (“Man erblickt nur, was man schon weiß und versteht”; letter to State Chancellor Friedrich von Müller, 24. 4. 1819). “To know and to understand” refers to various factors: knowledge of reality, cultural semiotic tradition, rules of transformation, and stylistics.

The viewer, for example, has to calculate the true dimensions. For a long time, the story of a development aid worker circulated: the aid worker gave a talk on the danger of the Tsetse Fly in a secluded tropical area. He had brought with him an image of the insect. After the talk, a member of the audience said: “Fortunately, we don’t have to worry about it; in our area the flies are not as big.”

No picture emerges from nothing, nor from the perception of ‘reality’. Background knowledge, the pool of already existing image elements, the knowledge of conventions as well as the knowledge of styles and their interpretation (from illusionism to pictograms), regulate depiction as well as perception.

How and to what degree does a visualization benefit from ‘general human, natural’ knowledge? Examples: we associate the colour blue with cold, probably because ice is of a bluish hue, and glowing objects appear reddish. We associate power with height, ‘from the top to the bottom’.

There are graphics which resemble each other from the outside, but which at the same time have completely different functions, and there are graphics that share the same function, but their visual realisation is different. This phenomenon can also be seen in linguistics:

Homonymy: The same phonetic structure has different meanings. (Example: fluke: ‘lucky chance’ – ‘trematode’ – ‘caudal fin of a whale’)

Synonymy: Different phonetic structures share the same meaning (e.g. student and pupil: ‘educandus’)

The mnemonic and the chiromantic hand appear very similar in shape, but have different functions (homonymy):

Mnemonic hand: Chiromantic hand
Source: Girolamo Marafioti, Ars Memoriae, Seu potius Reminiscentiae, Nova, Eaqve Maxime Perspicva Methodo, Per Loca Et Imagines, Ac Per Notas Et figuras, in manibus positas, tradita & explicata, Francofvrti 1603. Source: Brockhaus Bilder-Conversations-Lexikon 1837, I, 416 s.v. Chiromantie

The best method for achieving a differentiated approach is to take notice of the text accompanying the visualization.

The pictorial medium forces the illustrator to depict certain things which are not absolutely necessary to the interests of visualization – the viewer has to recognize that these things are worthless.

Source: Der Große Duden. Bildwörterbuch der deutschen Sprache … hg. Otto Basler, Leipzig: Bibliographisches Institut 1935; Tafel 118: ‘Das Tonfilmatelier’

The illustrator must draw a single scene being shot at the studio. The fact that it is a film about knights does not contribute to the information. The illustrator assumes that the viewer will ignore such details.

Visualization procedures have a historic perseverance of their own – this statement goes beyond the obvious influence of change pertaining to the introduction of new illustration modes or technologies. Pictures and texts of encyclopedias that were developed in different times appeared in the same books. While the text promised currency, the pictures still remained the same as in the older versions. Pictures may overcome porous borders faster than texts do, but these obviously different dynamics of transcultural entanglements are difficult to explain. For analytical reasons, the object-function-tool-relationships may provide a helpful approach in understanding the implications of different time layers, as the following example confirms:

The Chinese encyclopaedia Sancaji Tuhui in 1615 displayed a new, Jesuit-influenced map of the world, which contained information about Latin America not available in China at this time. The map of the world is an adaptation of Kunyu Wanguo Quantu 坤輿萬國全圖 (= “A Map of the Myriad Countries of the World" from 1602, in Italian: “Carta Geografica Completa di tutti i Regni del Mondo”, printed at the request of the wanli-Emperor with the knowledge of Matteo Ricci (1552-1610) and his helper Li Zhizao 李之藻 (1565–1630).

Interestingly, although the Chinese encyclopaedia uses a new and foreign tool – Western geographical mapping – the object (the world) still fits into the function intended by the encyclopaedia (to explain the world as divided into three spheres of heaven, earth and man). Western and Eastern functions belonging to different social, cultural and historical contexts, obviously did not interfere with each other. The object-function-tool relationships, however, can create controversial situations. In the case of sacred architecture, spatial orientation with adjustment to the sun or to holy places is part of the object’s function – the technology of modern mapping using North-South directions clearly collides with the function of the object.

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5. Case studies

 
     
 

5.1 Bloodletting man (Aderlassmännchen)

Source: Johannes Regiomontanus (1436–1476) Temporal. Deß weytberümpten M. Johan Künigspergers natürlicher Kunst der Astronomey kurtzer Begriff, von Natürlichem eynfluß der Gestirn, Planeten, unnd Zeichen, etc. Von den vier Complexionen, Natur und eigenschafft der Menschen, regiment durchs jar uber, mit Essen, Schlaffen, Baden, Purgieren, Aderlassen, etc. Auffs ordenlichst zuogericht, Franckfurt: Han, [ca. 1560].

The medical doctrine of the Middle Ages was affected by astrological conceptions. A fundamental concept was the existence of a relationship between the human being and outer space, microcosm and macrocosm, as well as the Zodiac (Zodiakus) having a direct influence on the human body. This belief also played an important role in one of the most common medical treatments of the time, venesection. Depending on where in the Zodiac the moon stood, one region of the body was considered more or less suited for venesection. Accordingly, the 12 phases of the Zodiac were assigned to individual limbs and organs of the human body, and the areas and the time for when to drain blood without endangering the patient were also established.

Based on this so-called ‘melothesia scheme’ (O), the figure of the Zodiac man (homo signorum) was created, depictions of which have been transmitted since the 13th century. At first, the names of the Zodiac signs were written directly on the corresponding body parts. In later illustrations, they were written in a circle outside the figure, with lines pointing to the areas of the body concerned (Aries – head, Taurus – throat, etc.). By removing the Zodiac signs from the body, a depiction of the open body and inner organs emerged, thus creating a precursor to anatomic illustration.

One of the earliest illustrations of the Zodiac man showing exposed organs can be found in the “Margarita Philosophica” by Gregor Reisch (1504). In this illustration, the four qualities (dry, wet, warm, cold), the four elements (fire, earth, water, air) and the four temperaments (sanguine, choleric, melancholic, phlegmatic) are each associated with three zodiac signs. For example, the signs Taurus (Taurus), Capricorn (Capricornus) and Virgo (Virgo) are associated with the qualities cold and dry (frigidus et siccus) as well as the element earth (terra), and the temperament of the melancholic. According to the predominant perception of the time, an imbalance of the body fluids, the cause for a sanguine, phlegmatic, choleric or melancholic character, could be balanced again through venesection.

The illustration from Regiomontanus also assigns the ratings ‘good’, ‘middle’ and ‘evil’ (guot, mittel and bös) to the Zodiac signs. In doing so, it clarifies which areas of the body are favourable or infavourable to venesection during this time. The four winds, illustrated with four blowing faces, indicate again the relationship between microcosm and macrocosm.

The Zodiac man, the comparably functioning illustrations of the venesection man (without astrologic designation), and the wound man (whose body is impaled with various weapons), were created due to the anatomical and surgical necessity of medicine (F). The image provides, in a different way from the text, unambiguousness concerning the physical region and gives the viewer a complete and simultaneous picture of the whole body. For this reason, it served until the end of the 15th century as a practical instruction for the attending physician.

(T) The basic concept of these same correlations can be depicted as a spreadsheet. The columns show the Zodiac signs and the rows indicate the body areas. When transformed into the circle structure of the Zodiac, as in Regiomontanus, the spreadsheet is bent into a circle around the figure. The columns are filled with the signs of the Zodiac rather than words, and instead of rows naming the body areas, lines (H) join these areas of the body on the central figure with the associated sign.

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5.2 Fugitive sheets (Aufklappbilder)

In order to depict objects that are able to be visually represented, but are normally hidden from the human eye due to surrounding structures obscuring the view (F), various techniques (T) have been developed by visualization experts, e.g. cut-open structures, structures similar to X-ray-type images, etc. All of these technologies already have a long-standing history.

Andrea Carlino, Paper bodies: a catalogue of anatomical fugitive sheets 1538-1687, London: Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine, 1999 (Medical History, supplement no. 19).

Virtual exhibition “Aufgedeckt und rumgedreht” (2007) on the website http://www.humboldtforum.de

Jörn Müncker, Eingreifen und Begreifen. Handhabungen und Visualisierungen in Flugblättern der Frühen Neuzeit, Berlin: Schmidt 2008 (Philologische Studien und Quellen 214); insbes. S. 88-137.

In 1538, a new type of leaflets emerged, in which picture motives were multi-layered. They were constructed from paper strips of different sizes, which were glued on top of each other and could be folded back. These first anatomical fugitive sheets depicted a woman’s body – “Anathomia oder abconterfectung eines Weybs leyb / wie er innwendig gestaltet ist” (‘anatomy or contrafactum of the body of a woman / how it is configured inside’) which allowed the front wall of the torso to be opened. The viewer could then open each of the following layers thus exposing the individual organs, and in this way, step by step, explore the inside of the human body. Short texts on either side of the figure provided some explanation; some of the pictures were also coloured.

The origin of these fugitive sheets lies in the anatomical woodcuts of the Late Middle Ages, some of which can be found in Johannes de Kethams “Fasciculus medicinae” (1491). But only the invention of Heinrich Vogtherr (1490-1556) provided the possibility of depicting to a certain degree the three-dimensionality of an object. In 1539, prints were published by Vogtherr in Strasbourg, Augsburg and Nuremberg:

Ausslegung und beschreybung der Anatomi oder warhafften abconterfettung eines inwendigen Cörpers, des Manns und Weybes, mit erklerung seiner innerlichen glider, … Dem gemeinen menschen zu einem kurtzen u. verstendlichen bericht.

[Exegesis and description of the anatomy or truthful contrafactum of the inside of a man and woman’s body, with explanation of its internal limbs, ... A short and comprehensible report for the common man.]

The commercial success was enormous and a multiplicity of circulations and imitations appeared. The physician Georg Bartisch also used the technique of fugitive sheets in his book on ophthalmology, “Ophthalmoduleia / Das ist Augendienst” (1583), which contains 91 full-page woodcuts. In order to comprehend the location of the eyes within the cranium and their anatomical structure, the viewer can work through from the top of the head, layer after layer, hair through to eyes and from the eye muscles to the pupil.

Source: Der Große Brockhaus. Handbuch des Wissens in zwanzig Bänden, 15. Auflage Band 12 (1932), s. v. ‘Mensch’

In addition to being able to intrude visually into the body of a person, a fugitive sheet can also provide a visual chronological course of events (O). The historical landslide which destroyed most of the village of Plurs in Bergell, September 1618, was reproduced by Johann Jacob Scheuchzer on a copper engraving through a fugitive sheet. The picture, when folded open, shows the village before the catastrophe; the closed picture shows the situation after the landslide, and therefore dramatically illustrates how suddenly the masses of rock overwhelmed the thriving village.

Johann Jacob Scheuchzer, Helvetiae stoicheiographia, orographia et oreographia oder Beschreibung der Elementen, Grenzen und Bergen des Schweitzerlands, Zürich: Bodmer 1716. Plurs [www]

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5.3 Drawing instruction

Source: Sancai Tuhui Section “renshi 人事”, juan 6.

QI SHOU, QUAN XING SHI 起手, 全形勢 This is a two-panel depiction of instructions for drawing a bird. What makes this picture unique in the context of the Sancai Tuhui is the fact that it is the only example of a step-by-step process in the entire book. The panel of the incomplete bird arranges the steps for drawing the beak, eyes, head, feet, body and shading like a Chinese text: in columns from right to left. The panel of the complete bird shows the bird in what classical painting perceives as its natural environment. Again, all these example illustrations come from an undisclosed origin. – J.P. Parks recent monograph Art by the Book : Painting manuals and the leisure life in Late-Ming China points out that this illustration originated from the “chungu yingxiang 春谷嚶翔” chapter (=> “chirping and flying in a spring valley”) in the “Grove of painting”-section in Zhou Lüjings 周履靖 (?–?; fl. 1579) Yimen Guangdu夷門廣牘 (=> Extensive records from secluded doors) from 1579 (Park 2012, 66, 196).

J. P. Park, Art by the Book. Painting manuals and the leisure life in Late Ming China, Seattle, London: University of Washington Press, 2012.

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5.4 Warnings, prohibitions, recommendations

In pre-modern times, collections of prudential knowledge and moral principles are also occasionally illustrated. Etiquette books and guidebooks remain in this tradition today.

The object (O), which is at the same time the function (F) – a warning, a prohibition, a recommendation or similar – is not easy to visualize. The usual technique of crossing out typical actions on traffic signs, in order to prohibit them, is very young.

Older techniques (T) work with mythological figures that are clearly connoted positively or negatively, for example a little devil hovering over a subject, persuading him or her to commit the evil deed. (The ‘panels of the Ten Commandments’ also follow this type.) Another popular technique – since Sebastian Brant’s “Narrenschiff” (1494) – is to mark the foolish subject with the dunce’s cap; the addition of similarly connoted animals, such as monkeys, pigs or donkeys, is also common.

Source: Franciscus Petrarca, Von der Artzney bayder Glück / des guten vnd widerwertigen, Augsburg: Steiner MDCXXXII. I,100

Using this technique, it is possible to judge an action by embedding it into a story with a positive or negative outcome, from which the reader can infer the ‘dos and don’ts’. The illustrator draws a concise moment of the story, or sometimes even uses a type of comic-strip. Finally, the evaluation of the action can also be insinuated by depicting the physiognomy of other characters (or personifications in our case) as happy, angry or burdened.

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5.5 Choropleth Map

In choropleth maps (Greek χωρα = area, region + πληθος = crowd), areas are coloured or hatched according to the statistical distribution of the thematic object. Two pictorial layers are superimposed – the geographical map and the statistical data.

A multitude of things could be considered as thematic objects:

  • climate, environmental pollution
  • population density, age structure, mortality
  • employment
  • denomination
  • average income, tax revenue
  • commuter behaviour
  • voting
  • educational opportunities (access to schools)
  • etc.

Source: Émile Levasseur, La population française. Histoire de la population avant 1789 et démographie de la France comparée à celle des autres nations au 19e siècle précédée d’une introduction sur la statistique, Paris 1889–1892; Tome 3; Fig. 166: Excédent des Naissances sur les Décès.

Surplus of births over deaths in France 1801 – 1886.

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5.6 Aide mémoire – Mnemonic function of images

The general aim of encyclopedias and other related works is not simply to impart knowledge, but also to ensure that this newly-imparted knowledge remains in the reader’s, user’s or operator’s memory (F).

The speakers of the ancient world are believed to be the inventors or, at least, the most important teachers, of mnemonics. They were faced with the task of memorising long speeches, in order to present them in a political assembly or in court. As a consequence, they developed various techniques of memory training. Christian teachers were the heirs of this tradition, and used it to ingrain the most important articles of faith into the minds of their students.

From antiquity to present-day management training, there are two fundamental techniques (T) used to memorize complex subject matter:

(1) The association of each element of knowledge that one wishes to memorize with a location of an everyday ‘landscape’ (for example the stations of a well-known tram line), which one can go over in his or her mind again if needed, thus going over the previously attached thoughts.

(2) The association of each element of knowledge with images, preferably those which have an organic connection (e.g. the limbs of the body of an exotic animal or the individual parts of a building), and retrieving the memorized knowledge with the help of these images. Naturally, in print media, only this method can be easily realised.

These techniques both take advantage of the fact that firstly, our ability for spatial orientation and secondly, our image memory, are both better than the ability to memorize isolated elements. (This is also part of the success of the virtual ‘desktop’ and the layout of its various ‘icons’ on the computer screen.)

Even if images are not explicitly employed for the service of memory training, textual information tends to stick longer if there is a suitable image near the text.

Example: The empire’s debt:


Source: Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon. Ein Nachschlagewerk des allgemeinen Wissens. 6., gänzlich neubearbeitete u. vermehrte Auflage. 20 Bde. Bibliographisches Institut, Leipzig u. Wien 1902–08; Band 22 = Supplementband 1909/1910 s.v. ‘Statistische Darstellungsmethoden II’.

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first published 6.5.12. pm