Saturday, June 11, 2005

Hooke and Besson: Redux

I was wrong. It seems that Besson’s work could not possibly have had any influence on Hooke whatsoever. The similarity in appearance between Boyle/Hooke’s depiction of the air-pump and the plates in Besson’s Theatrum des Instruments is undeniable. However, Hooke’s own copy of Besson entered his collection considerably after the appearance of the air pump.

Hooke was born on July 18 1635 and entered Oxford in 1653. Within five years he was working with Boyle. According to a letter written by Hooke and referenced by Waller in his introduction to the Posthumous works of Robert Hooke (originally published 1705. Reprinted in Gunther, 1921), he helped Boyle realize the air-pump:

“For in 1658, or 9, I contriv’d and perfected the air-pump for Mr. Boyle, having first seen a contrivance for that purpose made for the same honourable person by Mr. Gratorix, which was too gross to perform any great matter.” (Pg. 8-9)

In 1658 Hooke would have been fresh from Oxford and would have had little means to acquire a work such as Besson’s. That said, Oxford currently owns two editions of Besson: the 1582 Italian edition and the 1602 Spanish edition. It is unclear (to me at least) when these editions entered the Oxford collection and whether or not Besson’s work would have been available to Hooke at Oxford or from a private collection.

Hooke’s mechanical prowess likely came from his innate natural ability. Waller, for example, discusses Hooke’s early childhood. With little schooling, Hooke apparently entertained himself with various mechanical devices of his own creation.

As Hooke’s stature and wealth grew he became a devoted collector of books. According to Steven Shapin, Hooke’s library “was probably one of the most important centres of scientific and technical information in England and certainly among the most significant noncorporate collections.” (Shapin, 1991 pg. 564)

Rostenberg makes several observations about Hooke and mechanics in the context of his personal collection:

“Hooke referred to Mechanics as his ‘first and last Mistress.’ [nb. His housekeepers and his niece also fulfilled the role of mistress! (Espinasse, 1962)] His early propensity for anything mechanical led, according to Waller, to his ‘Excellency in such Contrivances, and admirable in the most difficult Phaenomena of Nature.’ The Hooke library contained 53 books in mechanics and technology: texts by Hero of Alexandria, Galileo, La Hire; De Meachnica of his fellow academician John Wallis; the Technometrica of William Ames; An Account of New Inventions and Improvements by Thomas Hall; a Spanish edition of Besson, Teatro de los Intrumentos bought in Moorfields [sic]; Boeckler, Theatrum Machinarum for which he paid 35sh. Other texts included Neri, Art of Glass, and Schott, Technica Curiosa, which he eventually purchased from Martyn: ‘18sh. Not paid.’” (Pg. 129)

The catalogue of Hooke’s library published on the occasion of its liquidation after Hooke’s death places these books side by side. Agricola’s de re metallica is listed as number 285 in the “Libri Latini &c. in Folio.” Besson is listed as 286 (despite its Spanish origin). Two editions of Palladio are listed as 288 and 289 while Bockler’s Theatrum machinarum is listed as 299. Other nearby works include Lionardo di Vinci dell Pittura, con Fig. at 297 and Vitruvius’s ten books of architecture at 294.

It’s unclear whether or not Hooke actually shelved these works together or if they were grouped for the auction. Hooke appears to have been quite concerned with the arrangement of his library. As noted by Rostenberg, his diaries frequently mention the purchase of additional “cases” for his books and reorganization attempts. The Bibliotheca Hookeana also indicates that he owned Naudé’s Instructions for the Erecting of a Library, John Durie’s The Reformed Library Keeper, Labbé’s Bibliotheca Bibliothecarum, Lomeier’s De Bibliothecis, and Gallois’s Traité des plus belles bibliotheques de l’Europe.

Rostenburg maintains that Hooke obtained his copy of Besson in the warren of stalls in Moorfields. I disagree. It seems that Hooke relied on Pitts for his technical books. On Wednesday August 20 1673, Hooke made a diary entry: “Bought of Pitts, Besson for 7s., Saverus for 3s., paid for these the 25th following.” (Hooke, Robinson, & Adams, 1935 pg. 56) A year later (August 13) Hooke also acquired his copy of Bockler from Pitts: “paid Pitts his man for Machina Boclerus. 35s, Billio Diophantus 5s., 3 pieces of Snellius 6s., Hugenius de Magnitudine Circuli 1s., in all 47 sh.” (Pg. 117) Hooke also acquired his copy of de re metallica from Pitts on January 2 1673: “Bought of Pitt, George Agricola de re metallica.” The edition may not have been complete for on March 29 of 1673 Hooke notes: “At John Baptists and Remus bought 2nd part of Agricola in Bedlam for 2s. 6d.” (Pg. 36)

Hooke did, however, investigate a different Besson from Moorfields. On Tuesday October 8 of 1689 after meeting with a friend he notes: “in MF O. saw Petit and Besson.” (Gunther, 1921, vol. x pg. 152) On a trip to Moorfields several days later, Hooke “saw Petit de Vacua, Besson of Waterfinding, French Gardener.” (Pg. 154) The Besson in question is De absoluta ratione extrahendi olea et aquas e medicamentis simplicibus, first published by Andreas Gesner at Zurich in 1559 and featuring an introduction by the polymath Conrad Gesner. Hooke may have seen the book but he makes no mention of having made a purchase and the work doesn’t appear in the Bibliotheca Hookeana.

This brief foray into the book habits of Robert Hooke may seem like a bit of a diversion. Information on Hooke’s collection, and the existence of his diaries give us some insight into one particular reader of the theatrum machinarum, even if he lived in a country different from that of their initial publication. The importance of the reader or user of technical documents should not be underestimated. Indeed, readers are an important element of Darnton’s cycle of book production (1983).

The relationship of Hooke and Besson is important for another reason related to the overall importance of book historiography. As noted by Shapin:

“The history of books and libraries can exert a constructive discipline on the history of ideas. It reminds us that ideas come embedded in material forms whose accumulation and circulation crucially depend upon the economics and movability of those forms.” (Shapin, 1991 pg. 564)

As I conclude this entry my thoughts now turn to that other character mentioned by Hooke. Who exactly was Moses Pitt, publisher and bookseller, and what was his role in the creation and propagation of technical literature?


Darnton, R. (1983). What is the history of the book? In Books and society in history, Papers of the Association of College and Research Libraries Rare Book and Manuscripts Preconference, 24-28 June, 1980, Boston, Mass.

Espinasse, M. (1962). Robert Hooke. Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press.

Gunther, R. T. (1921). Early science in Oxford. Oxford: Printed for the subscribers at the University Press.

Hooke, R., Robinson, H. W., & Adams, W. (1935). The diary of Robert Hooke, M.A., M.D., F.R.S., 1672-1680, transcribed from the original in the possession of the Corporation of the city of London (Guildhall library). London: Taylor & Francis.

Shapin, S. (1991). [Book Review] The library of Robert Hooke. Isis, 82(3), 564-565.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Proposal Structure

I'm not thrilled with the order of the proposal that I submitted so I'm taking a quick look just at the order:

1. Introduction
2. Handbooks as unstudied
3. Define handbooks i.e., what are these things. Define according to existing LIS vademecum and according the novum documentum
4. 3 Issues of background interest
4.1 Images
4.3 Organizational structure
4.3 Intertextuality
5. The materials
5.1 What are the TM
5.2 What is AGS
6. Methodology
7. Method. Include illustrations of application to materials.
8. Timeline.
Thoughts on handbooks

Aase Karina (1999) produced a rather interesting manuscript on handbooks. She explored the role of organizational handbooks in the formation of corporate knowledge. Her work with a North Sea oil producer followed the companies attempts to create new handbooks for organizational procedures. While Karina clearly studies a type of handbook distinct from technical handbooks such as AGS, some of her comments have relevance.

After interviewing a number of handbook users, Karina notes:

“The new handbooks were developed based on structural rearrangement of old documents. Respondents’ viewpoints demonstrated that the content reflected ‘old ways of thinking’ and that current problems were not treated in handbooks.” (Pg. 234)

This interesting observation—that handbooks are just compilations of old material—has led to me to a question. Are handbooks just collections of old material?

Archictectural Graphic Standards is clearly rooted in older material. Pai (2002), for example, refers to AGS as a “hybrid of the construction manual and the catalogue.” (Pg. 201) Of particular importance for AGS was (and possibly is) Sweet’s Catalogue, a compilation of trade catalogues published by McGraw-Hill, the archrival of AGS publisher John Wiley and Sons. [Although this may have been historically contingent]

The theatrum machinarum seem to be something different from this modern conception of handbook as compiled diagrammatic nostalgia. Ferguson indicates that Renaissance technical books took on two very different forms. Agricola (1912), for example, documented actual working conditions and techniques and attempted to disseminate this knowledge [translation by future president Herbert Hoover!]. Authors like Ramelli and Besson created fantastic works more rooted in imagination than practice. From this perspective, the theatrum machinarum are completely novel. Or are they?

Ramelli and Besson have been plagiarized in many subsequent handbooks by authors like Leupold (see details in previous entries). Their ideas may not, however, have been completely novel. Reti (1963), for example, notes that there is considerable resonance between the theatrum machinarum and the manuscripts of Franceso di Giorgio, and that Leonardo’s work may have had considerable influence on Ramelli (1972). Leonardo and di Georgio aren’t even isolated from each other (Long, 2004). Even the work of di Giorgio, however, may not have been completely original. He did, however, have the distinct advantage of being first on the scene after the creation of linear perspective so to our modern eyes he just seems to the original. In the work of di Giorgio we can see something of earlier technical manuscripts such as that of Anonymous of the Hussite Wars, Taccola, Kyeser, or even in the manuals of the gun-masters of the 1400s (Leng, 2004). Even in these works we see some resonance with one of the earliest technical manuscripts, the sketchbook of Villard de Honnecourt (McGee, 2004; Shelby, 1972). And then we just run out of documentary evidence. It seems likely, however, that even Villard’s work was the result of copying other manuscripts from the various work sites that he visited and that the work practices of the early masons may have been informed by other documentary practices now largely lost to us (Camerota, 2004; Lefèvre, 2004; Turnbull, 2000).

So maybe all handbooks have a bit of the scriptoria still lingering about them. Maybe they are all copied from other sources. If we get right down to it, what works are completely original?


Agricola, G., Hoover, H., & Hoover, L. H. (1912). Georgius Agricola De re metallica. London,: The Mining magazine.
Camerota, F. (2004). Renaissance descriptive geometry: The codification of drawing methods. In W. Lefèvre (Ed.), Picturing machines 1400-1700 (pp. 175-208). Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
Karina, A. (1999). Handbooks as a tool for organizational learning: a case study. Journal of Engineering and Technology Management, 15, 201-208.
Lefèvre, W. (2004). The emergence of combined orthographic projections. In W. Lefèvre (Ed.), Picturing machines 1400-1700 (pp. 209-244). Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
Leng, R. (2004). Social character, pictorial style, and the grammar of techncial illustrations in craftsmen's manuscripts in the late middle ages. In W. Lefèvre (Ed.), Picturing machines 1400-1700 (pp. 85-114). Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
Long, P. O. (2004). Picturing the machine: Francesco di Georgio and Leonardo in the 1490s. In W. Lefèvre (Ed.), Picturing machines 1400-1700 (pp. 117-142). Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
McGee, D. (2004). The origins of early modern machine design. In W. Lefèvre (Ed.), Picturing machines 1400-1700 (pp. 53-84). Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
Pai, H. (2002). The portfolio and the diagram : architecture, discourse, and modernity in America. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
Reti, L. (1963). Franceso di Giorgio Martini's treatise on engineering and its plagiarists. Technology and Culture, 4(3), 287-298.
Reti, L. (1972). Leonardo and Ramelli. Technology and Culture, 13, 577-605.
Shelby, L. R. (1972). The Geometrical Knowledge of Mediaeval Master Masons. Speculum: A Journal of Medieval Studies, 47(3), 395-421 Acronym Speculum Periodical Record.
Turnbull, D. (2000). Masons, tricksters, and cartographers : comparative studies in the sociology of scientific and indeigenous knowledge. Australia: Harwood Academic.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Paper Ideas

Once again I have to purge my brain of the various article ideas that are clogging up the neural pathways…

1. Authors like Eugene Ferguson claim that there are two types of technical literature from the Renaissance. Agricola's work documents existing practice. Ramelli's work documents fantasy technology that could not exist. It would be interesting-to me at least-to prove that Ramelli's work actually could exist. His drawings could be scaled and through some rudimentary calculations based on current engineering knowledge, the feasibility of the designs could be established. Two types of analysis may be appropriate: a review of the static mechanics inherent in Ramelli's devices for crossing water and some sort of gearing ratio investigation for his various ways of raising water. The basic questions would be: would they actually stand, and could a person actually use it. Working title: Crossing water: assessing the feasibility of Ramelli's technical drawings.

2. I've become interested in the word "information"-but who hasn't. I'm particularly fascinated by the way the term gets used by the vendors of content management software. Their marketing seems to resonate with LIS doctrine yet it has become somehow bastardized. A content analysis of their marketing materials and annual reports would be quite interesting. Working title: The business of information: assessing the discourse of content management.

3. Carrying on from the business side of information, I've started to look at industry analysts. How, exactly have these institutions emerged? A book on the history of the industry is certainly in order. As a starting point, however, I could look at Gartner's Magic Quadrant. The back-story of its emergence and popularization of this discursive (and graphical) gem could prove very interesting.

4. One thing I've written about in the past is the dream of combining IR and SNA techniques for improved knowledge discovery tools (how easily I fall back into the rhetoric!). In my previous forrays on the topic I was lacking an appropriate corpus of email. One has emerged. It seems that Enron basically just dumpted their entire email corpus into the public domain and any number of researchers are using it to investigate the properties of email. A downloadable version of the Enron email file is available as MySQL dump. A number of other resources are available, notably a page posted by William Cohen and an article in Salon. I'm not sure how I overlooked this resource when I was looking everywhere for a corpus!

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Microsoft vs. RIM

I saw a brief news entry on Microsoft's entry into the wireless pager space. They're taking on RIM. This move is interesting. RIM has a number of allies in the telephony space but Microsoft has partnerships with… well, everyone.

Some good background for this move is Microsoft's Windows CE product. CE was initially designed as a small foot print version of Widows for mobile devices. First released in 1996, v.1 was a dog. So was v.2. Now at v.3, Windows CE has finally found commercial success with Pocket PC devices. In the early days, Microsoft lost market share to PalmOS and its associate devices. One reason may have been because Palm was basically able to create the portable device form factor through the tight integration of hardware and software.

Palm's dominance is gone. Microsoft now owns half of the PDA market and Palm's road-map is fractured; they are lacking clear product roadmaps for both telephony and productivity appliance! It seems that Microsoft will continue to apply margin pressure and gain greater market share as devices become increasingly commoditized.

Flashing forward to RIM and Microsoft we see a very similar scenario. This time, it's not going to take Microsoft nine years to gain dominant market share. Similar to Palm, RIM's advantage came through their dominance of the form factor. Given the marked similarities between Palm's Treo and RIM's 7100 series, this advantage seems to be slipping. Perhaps more damning is the jarring absence of a product roadmap for the BlackBerry. With nowhere to go technologically, the device is destined to be commoditized. And nobody commoditizes with the efficiency of Microsoft and its sundry hardware partners (i.e., everyone).

Is their a future for RIM? Sure. It will take Microsoft five years to reach parity in market share. Most of these gains will come from the consumer- and mid-market. RIM will remain entrenched in the choice verticals of finance and law.

Lesson: The scent of a fizzling product roadmap brings very large predators.
Why do we use email?

There has been a lot of talk about information in the business press. According to many sources we are "drowning" in information: it has seeped into all of our business process and now represents both the opportunity of "knowledge management" and the dangers of litigation.

All of this information needs a home. Reading from vendor whitepapers, the information should be stored and backed up into large networked storage tools. It should also be indexed, catalogued, probed, aligned, quantified, evaluated, and fully technologized. All of these functions offer the "value added" of vendor offerings. Perhaps this cost of these solutions comes entirely from the value add.

This reliance on the word "information" is quite stunning. How has such a totalizing discourse emerged? An interesting project would be to explore the discourse surrounding "information" in a mainstream periodical like Wired. My particular interest in information comes from my recent grounding in the novum documentum. Once we get rid of information as a concept, what are we left with? Practices. Social institutions. Documents.

The document part of the content management story is fairly straight forward. Really, there are few differences between the offerings of documentum or Open Text and mainstream records management theory. A trickier question regards practices of e-mail. Why, exactly, do we use e-mail and can we use those insights to get to a more thorough understanding of what we can do for our current information crunch?

At the basic level, we use e-mail to communicate. It's a channel for sending blocks of information (in a more literal sense than that used by most communication scholars). We use it to get things done: to request meetings, to get other documents (solicited or not), to share documents, to request meetings, to maintain friendships. Is it possible to develop a taxonomy of the uses people make of e-mail? Would this sort of thing be beneficial at all in simplifying initiatives for archiving and storing email? I have no idea. Regardless, I'm a quite wary of the overuse of the term "information." Don't get me started on "knowledge"!

"Data" presents a completely different question. One of the drivers for email concerns comes from regulation. Sarbox has been a boon for content management vendors pushing solutions for documents. The other class of vendor that seems to have gotten a lift from SarbOx is business intelligence. The goal of BI products is to aggregate data from a variety of sources and make it both intelligible and informative. BI pulls transaction data-order and receipts-from a variety of different sources to enable a new depth of analysis. BI vendors harp on the SarbOx requirement that public companies report in real time on developments that have a "material impact" on corporate performance. The idea is that BI tools make data entry and reporting both seamless and painless. Imagine the executive who gets the daily update of their sales numbers.

My concern is the nature of this "data." I'm very aware of the social practices of information. In the case of corporate information, executives bring their spreadsheets to end-of-quarter meetings and chew on what the numbers mean. They make their decisions, publish a 10-Q, and the truth has been created (unless they have to restate). The assumption is that this reality existed before the meeting. I disagree. The spreadsheets, the 10-Q, and the meeting were all necessary to create that truth.

The goal/dream of BI vendors and SarbOx is to make that reporting real time. Executives get a constant stream of data pushed to some sort of dashboard. From this dashboard, they make their decision. Of course, the whole hypothesis testing model of western science, engineering, and management dogma is broken, but this consideration seems not to garner much concern. A further consideration is that nature of the underlying data. The collected metrics probably conform to GAAP but GAAP is a socially constructed institution governed by specific historical and temporal considerations. What if the organization is essentially collecting the wrong metrics? Shitty metrics in real time are still shitty metrics. Removing the system check of the quarter end meeting may make these metrics even more damaging.

Having stated my lack of comfort in the stability of accounting systems, I have to admit that they have evolved as very robust systems. Systems of accounting have been around for a long, long time and I have to assume that their current form has stabilized for a reason. Perhaps that's the thesis: documentary forms (including classifications) stabilize in the presence of relatively stable social practices. Disruptions to that practice-imposed by either technological or political innovations-will have a dramatic impact on that documentary form. It sounds good. Unfortunately, it's far from original; Giddens, Yates and Orlikowski, and any number of other researchers were there first!

Now that I've written myself into a hypothesis, I should finish of the tale of SarbOx and BI. SarbOx demands an audit trail of transactions. This transfers into the BI world through the rather mundane functions of ETL: extract, transform, and load. Basically, a BI system aggregates data from a variety of different transaction systems into a data warehouse. This staged data can then be used for analysis. Of importance, however, is "metadata" related to the aggregation. From a SarbOx perspective, the BI system should indicate line-level changes that have occurred between refreshed instances i.e., if someone has altered a transaction, the BI system should be able to indicate who, what, and where. In this case, the actual data change isn't so important as the social reasons for that change: who did it, why they did it, and the context of the change.

Good. I've got some ideas.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Volume 27 of the Philosophical Transactions

I have no problem getting old copies of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. I open a browser windows, type "" and I'm pretty much there. I can browse down to the individual articles of Volume 27. Within seconds I can have a copy of Jean Denis's "Letter concerning a new way of curing sundry diseased by transfusion."

The scientists of the day had a very different problem. Hevelius, a member of the Royal Society, recieved numbers 16 to 49 from Oldenburg in August of 1669. Oldenburg could not, however, secure number 27: it was the best seller of the day. Apparently even Christian Huygens couldn't get a copy even after his father travelled to London. Hevelius and Huygens both wrote frequent letters to Oldenburg in an attempt to procure these rare numbers and complete their collections.
And now, all I have to do is open a browser window. It seems that the practice of research has become something very different from what it was.

Source: Rostenberg, L. (1989) The library of Robert Hooke: The scientific book trade of restoration England. Madoc Press, Santa Monica CA. Page 109.