Sunday, October 02, 2005

Jacques Besson and Edwin A. Battison

In the biographic note attached to a 1966 article in Technology and Culture, Edwin A. Battison notes that he is working on an English translation of Besson’s theatrum machinarum (Battison, 1966). We know of translations in Latin, German, French, Spanish, and Italian. There is also apparently a Dutch translation in manuscript. Battison’s translation—if it exists—would be the first in English.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t exist. Battison was a former curator of the Smithsonian and the translation project was executed under the auspices of that institution. Donald Brashear, current Head of Special Collections and Curator of Science & Technology Rare Books at the Dibner Library of the Smithsonian, recently (September 29, 2005) replied to my inquiry about the existence of Battison’s translation. He writes:

Thanks for your email. I can now only vaguely recall the English translation project being mentioned when we first started the Digital Besson project. I seem to recollect hearing that someone had been working on an English translation but that it did not get very far. No one seemed to know if there was any partial material remaining, and there was no follow-up.

I'll try to do some more digging here to be sure, but I think it's pretty likely that Battison's project must be the same one and that it never was completed. A search in the Smithsonian Archives' curatorial correspondence might turn up some clues if no one here remembers.

If anyone is truly interested in Battison’s translation, the archives may be a good place to start.

References

Battison, E. A. (1966). Stone-cutting and polishing lathe, by Jacques Besson. Technology and Culture, 7(2), 202-205.

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