Saturday, March 08, 2008

Anthropomorphic Trade Cards

rat tutor teaching circle of young rats

dancing monkey

cat with arm in sling

twin frames of dog in bed

frog with walking cane

cat taunting dog on leash (advert)

mother mouse pushing babies in pram

frog pouring perfume on posey of flowers

frog playing flute

trio of rats playing musical instruments

cats playing fife and drum

cat playing fiddle while other cats dance

From the Victorian Trade Card Collection at Miami University Library in Ohio.

The narrow, tall (portrait) images are full size as you see them displayed here. The wider (landscape) ones have larger versions if you click through. [previously]

Friday, March 07, 2008

The Montgolfier Report

"The aerostatic machine was constructed of cloth lined with paper, fastened together on a network of strings fixed to the cloth. It was spherical; its circumference was 110 feet, and a wooden frame sixteen feet square held it fixed at the bottom. Its contents were about 22,000 cubic feet, and it accordingly displaced a volume of air weighing 1,980 1bs. The weight of the gas was nearly half the weight of the air, for it weighed 990 lbs., and the machine itself, with the frame, weighed 500: it was, therefore, impelled upwards with the force of 490 lbs.

Two men sufficed to raise it and to fill it with gas, but it took eight to hold it down till the signal was given. The different pieces of the covering were fastened together with buttons and button-holes. It remained ten minutes in the air, but the loss of gas by the button-holes, and by other imperfections, did not permit it to continue longer. The wind at the moment of the ascent was from the north. The machine came down so lightly that no part of it was broken."
[Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier's description of the first balloon flight, 5 June 1783]

Jesuit Francesco Lana Terzi's flying machine

Montgolfier page 74 f

Montgolfier page f

Montgolfier page 82

Montgolfier page 587

Montgolfier page 580

Montgolfier page 51

Montgolfier page 6

Montgolfier page 329

Montgolfier page 249

Montgolfier page 63

Montgolfier brothers second flight

The distinguished geologist and vulcanologist, Barthélemy Faujas de Saint-Fond, was, like everyone from his time, captivated by the exploits of Joseph and Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier as they developed and tested their hot air balloons in the 1780s.

Faujas assiduously documented all facets of the enterprise in a 2-volume work that became the definitive account of the Montgolfier brothers' famous accomplishments. He included everything from detailed scientific notes about the dimensions and physics of the balloon constructions, to first hand accounts from all of the major figures involved or present for each test flight, as well as reports about rival projects (including the hydrogen balloons of a Mr Charles) that attempted to out-perform or emulate the Montgolfier deeds.

'Description des Expériences de la Machine Aérostatique' was released in 1783/1784 and was soon translated into German as 'Beschreibung der Versuche mit den Aerostatischen Maschinen'.

The following is from a commentary on Faujas' work that was published in England in 'The Monthly Review' towards the end of 1783. It provided the first comprehensive details of the Montgolfier flights for an english speaking audience. I love the dignified excitement...
"An anonymous letter to [Barthélemy Faujas de Saint-Fond] containing a project for steering balloons in every direction, and conjectures on the uses to which they may hereafter be applied, has, we own, given us at least as much entertainment, as we remember to have formerly received from the perusal of the Arabian Fairy Tales.

Not that what he says appears to us altogether repugnant to the laws of nature, but that we found our imaginations warmed by the gigantic idea of our penetrating some day into the wildest and most inhospitable regions of Africa, Arabia, and America, of our crossing chains of mountains hitherto impervious, and ascending their loftiest summits, of our reaching either of the two poles and in short, of our extending our dominion over the creation beyond any thing of which we have now conception.

We must own that the uses of magnetism and electricity have turned out much greater than the world had in any degree conceived, when those phenomena were first discovered, and that those instances give some countenance to the sanguine expectations formed by the admirers of this invention."

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Rudimentum Novitiorum

La mer des histoires 1491 Lettrine

1491 World Map - Rudimentum Novitiorum

World Map (1491 edition)
"[T]the world map in the Rudimentum emphasizes the inhabited lands and pictures them as a circle surrounded by an ocean sea. Inland waters divide the ecumene into the three usual continents, each of which is labeled on the Lubeck map: Asia at the top, with the lettering outside of the circle while Europe and Africa have their names given just below the diameter where Asia ends. Paradise is located in the far east, with the four rivers issuing forth from the Garden of Eden and flowing through the lands of the earth. The Holy Land is in the center of the map with the Pillars of Hercules at the bottom.

The map seems to focus on the large continental divisions rather than on the exact geographical relationship between places. Thus the cartographer wanted the readers to know that Alexandria was in Africa, Persia was in Asia, and Venice belonged to Europe, rather than to give the precise location of each place. The placement of countries within their respective division of the world often seems to be based on other factors than distance and direction. Thus Rome is placed near the center of Europe, and Carthage occupies the similar position of honor in Africa.

The inclusion of places from Biblical history, classical times, and mythology emphasize that the function of the map was not to provide a picture of the world as it was in 1475. Rather the map presented an interesting view of the world with some essential things that a beginning student should know about it. The time did not matter. Thus places from different eras, real and mythological, were placed side by side. The map, like most of the other illustrations in the book, was a teaching aide, presenting basic information in graphic form." [source]

La mer des histoires - Rudimentum novitiorum 1491

La mer des histoires - Rudimentum novitiorum (Holy Land in colour)
Holy Land maps of 1491 and (I think) 1475 respectively.

"This 1475 map of the Holy Land is regarded as the first modern printed map because it is not derived from a classical source (Ptolemy), nor is it in the circular schematic format characteristic of medieval maps. However, it retains two attributes of earlier maps: it is "oriented" with east at the top, and Jerusalem is at the center. The geographic information is taken largely from a now lost manuscript map made two centuries earlier by a Dominican pilgrim, Burchard of Mt. Sion. In this bird's-eye view, topographic features are portrayed with reasonable accuracy, and cities and regions are depicted as stylized hills. [source]

 Noah geneaology - La mer des histoires 1491 Rudimentum novitiorum
The genealogical tree of Noah

Charlemagne with Pope and Plundering of Castle (1517 edition of 'La mer des histoires')
Charlemagne, Imperator Romanorum, with the Pope;
AND plundering of a castle.

'Rudimentum Novitiorum' (Handbook for Beginners) was first published in Lübeck in 1475. It is an encyclopaedic world history based on medieval theology "derived from the Bible, the Church Fathers, pagan mythology and compilations such as that of Vincent of Beauvais, offering the basics of historical knowledge to young clerics. For the chronological arrangement use has been made of genealogical charts which are illustrated with portraits and scenes, including the first printed map of the world."

The author of the original incunabulum remains anonymous and the work achieved a wider popularity after it was translated into French (as: 'La Mer des Histoires'; The Sea of Stories) and published by Pierre Le Rouge and Guillaume le Bret in 1488/1491. Seven subsequent folio editions were released before 1555.

The eccentric presentation of religious and mythological history combined with geographical relationships of varying accuracy and importance in a visual format make these medieval maps particularly fascinating. It is well worth looking closely either in the large format (click on the images above) or via the zoom interface as below.

The two black and white maps, figural lettrine and Noah genealogy illustrations were all spliced together from up to twenty five screencaps each (spot cleaned a little). Unfortunately there doesn't appear to be any other illustrations from these exceedingly rare incunabula available online.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Permission Unpossible I

Being some final observations and background to
the production of the BibliOdyssey Book. (What book?)
The second and last part of this essay will appear either
later this week or next week. Then it shall be put to rest.
When the UK firm, FUEL Design, first made contact to say they liked BibliOdyssey and ask if I had any interest in turning the weblog into a book, I didn’t know anything about them as publishers. I found an article at the Design Museum which provided some background details and I was interested to discover that they had been involved in producing the Russian Criminal Tattoo books from a couple of years ago. I had heard good things about this series so I was fairly satisfied that FUEL was worth listening to, even if I wasn’t overly confident that anything would come of it.

I invited them to elaborate on the book idea and they provided a brief overview. They envisioned a collection of about two hundred interesting images, many having appeared on the weblog before and a further selection that would be unfamiliar to regular readers of the website. I would provide my normal style of accompanying commentary and be listed as author, and FUEL would edit, design and publish the finished product. My initial positive reaction towards them was confirmed when they forwarded a selection of their books. This was obviously a publishing firm of novel versatility.

The most memorable comment from our early exchange was FUEL’s rather simplistic conclusion that all of the images on the BibliOdyssey weblog appear with unambiguous permission. There may well have been a raised eyebrow and an element of wishful thinking buried in the subtext but, as I was to find out, FUEL weren’t overly familiar with the day to day workings of the weblog universe.

On occasion, I have specifically sought permission from webmasters to post material to the BibliOdyssey website. Now and then I’ve been contacted by an artist or librarian who have advised of source works in which they played some role. I have also approached varying website personnel seeking more information about exhibits or about prohibitive site policies, or merely to pass on compliments and advise of my intentions with respect to the source material. These interactions resulted in either tacit or explicit permission being granted to download and post images in entries here.

But, however misguided or contestable in an ethical or legal sense, the majority of entries appearing on this weblog operate on the assumption that by being thorough about identifying and linking to the source material, I am satisfying all, or close to all, concerns of the artist, digital image host, book and copyright owner or their agent(s).

One of the great benefits of the web, in the publishing sense, is that material can be removed if justifiable objections are raised by interested parties. I have never received such a request relating to the BibliOdyssey site1. And if there is one overriding truth or ethos that has been born out by the production of the BibliOdyssey book, it’s that if you are careful and consistent with naming and linking to the source material online, then libraries, galleries and other repositories will, more often than not, respond favourably when you come knocking on their doors seeking permission to use their images out in the real world. In sport, it’s otherwise known as fair play.

This immediately brings us to a kind of crossroads in technical, if not strictly legal, differences between publishing on the web and in the hard-copy world. While the superficial frontier style of legality online means that, for most practical purposes, if you manage to avoid plagiarism and libel, it’s unlikely that anything dire will result from having a weblog, beyond perhaps being required to remove an entry, which is an easy few mouse clicks away. A real book is a completely different animal, of course. The costs associated with pulping thousands of copies - let alone any punitive consequences from the courts – due to copyright or licensing transgressions are impossible to disregard or treat casually. So FUEL’s naïve expectations that the images displayed on this weblog always appeared with explicit approval from the source or owner was, to say the least, a wake up call for us both, giving some sense of the work ahead.

From the very beginning this was a speculative project. There was no advance and no budget, beyond the printing costs. A contract was forwarded for my perusal and, after some changes suggested by one of the lawyer types in my family were accepted by FUEL, the unsigned document was filed away and never mentioned again; well yet, anyway. Beyond the initial brief outline, the project was to evolve organically from discussion rather than from any master plan. FUEL’s one addendum to that original sketch was the vague idea of evoking an “eccentric Victorian collection of images” and, looking back, that was undoubtedly a temperament of demarcation against which I battled throughout the year long development process.

Although the division of labour was blurred, FUEL started sifting through the weblog archives, picking out images they thought were contenders for inclusion. At that time, there were only a couple of works that came to my mind that I definitely wanted in the book, if the necessary clearances could be obtained. We drafted a pro forma letter to seek permission – individual image/repository details and a copy of the image to be added when they were sent out – and we tweaked an old legal release form that FUEL had used previously, which would accompany each letter of request.

I began doing some background reading about copyright and permissions to try to get some level of understanding of our responsibilities. Even to the casual observer, Intellectual Property is a complex field of law, but it is made all the more complicated when variations in statutes and limitation periods between countries are factored in. Any thorough distillation of the relevant legal principles is beyond the scope of this article, let alone my meagre abilities. Regardless of the convoluted process that may be involved, it is nevertheless essential to determine the copyright status for each and every image when preparing a book for publication. And the responsibility for assessing that copyright status falls on the person who wishes to use the image: claiming ignorance will not save you in a law suit.

To my way of thinking, the two most important legal concepts that would at least partly affect the project relate to the year of 1923 and the case of Bridgeman Art Library -v- Corel Corp. In the United States (but really, this seems to be a fairly useful measure for many countries)
“all books and other works published before 1923 have expired copyrights and are in the public domain.”
The Bridgeman case basically says that exact photographs of public domain works can’t themselves be covered by copyright. If copyright has expired on a book, for example, a photograph (and by logical extension, a digital file hosted online of that photograph) of an illustration from that book does not acquire a new round of copyright protection. It’s a district court case and it doesn’t carry a huge amount of weight, but it has nevertheless had a significant – though definitely not universal - impact around the world in, for instance, the policies of some institutions towards their digital holdings.

These two topics are only sidelines to practicalities however. It just so happens that most of the material posted to the BibliOdyssey website tends to be old and so copyright didn’t often enter into the debate, per se; although the 1923 date did have an influence on our image choice at times. We were generally agreed that using the Bridgeman case as a point of argument was a fairly indelicate approach. As we were to be contacting people from a lot of repositories in a range of countries, we hoped to establish positive relationships from the outset. Advocating for cooperation based on the premise that we expected to introduce their collections to a wider audience is one thing, but it’s quite another to attempt to hammer home some sort of advantage by quoting case law, particularly when the precedent originates in a foreign country. Persuasion, rather than aggression, was the order of the day.

The dominant consideration for our project actually turned out to be the policies followed by individual libraries and museums. I confess to not really understanding what legal principles govern the restrictions that institutions apply to the use of their online collections. Regular property rights I suppose. There may be no copyright involved but it is undeniable that a library that digitises an old book and posts the images online does actually own the digital files. The extent (legal, ethical or otherwise) to which they are allowed to control how a person may use those digital files is something of a controversial topic. On the one hand, many institutions are owned by governments and one might conclude that their stock is therefore owned by the people. But economic reality pressures some institutional boards into drafting policies that enable them to earn at least part of their income from licensing fees attached to their holdings. Obviously this all has a fairly large political dimension and, while it might be a principle worthy of activisim at the local or national level, it was outside the purview of our image scrounging enterprise.

1One academic in Germany was unhappy about my manipulating a web address to display and dowload high resolution full page images of a certain illuminated manuscript (the default view was of partial page sections). He only discovered this when he was approached for permission to use one of the images in the book. He declined both my offer to remove the relevant entry from the weblog and also the request for permission to include a manuscript image in the book.

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