Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Meeting on pre-proposal

I met with my supervisor several days ago regarding the status of my proposal. His response to the first draft was… well, it just was. While not necessarily damning with faint praise he didn't necessarily heap the laurels. And that's okay. Proposals are odd things. My experience with creating the proposal has led me to believe that proposal writing is a process of taking your knowledge, inspiration, goals, and fancies and breaking them on the rack of a particularly stifling documentary form. By reducing the ideas to the arid format of thesis question, background, key concepts, methodology, and method, everything that was interesting about the project faded into the background. To make matters worse, by proposing a particularly methodology and method I was shackling myself to an approach that may or may not be what I actually want to do (or have time to do). These constraints are rather considerable given that I introduced the methodology and method to fill some gaps in the required proposal format!

In my supervisors words, my proposal was really just an inventory of thoughts and concepts; it lacked the "hills and valleys" of truly interesting research. Bingo. Perhaps that's exactly what a proposal is supposed to be!

We discussed various aspects of the things I had presented: my thesis statements, my research questions, and the key concepts articulated within the proposal. The conversation was incredibly helpful. Questions like "what do you mean?" and "why?" are much more helpful in a verbal manner. After talking for an hour or two my supervisor helped me iron the kinks out of my ideas. Or perhaps he had helped my narrow my focus down to a few particular areas that demonstrated the necessary "hills and valleys".

As for the proposal, I'll have to get back to it. His recommendation was that I just need to start writing. Given the type of research questions I'm asking there's no way to know exactly how I'm going to get to where I want to go. The research questions are sold, it's just a matter of doing it. With a few set pieces-potential chapters-written, it may be easier to create the proposal as a way of documenting what I did and am doing, rather than as a way of laying out what I intend to do.

On to the chapters:

Technical handbooks and object distance

The first piece that we talked about (and my supervisor was incredibly helpful in showing me how to put this together) was legitimation and the distance between object and representation. One of my thoughts is that the types of representations depicted in technical handbooks don't necessarily function directly as a depiction of the physical object. It's not a case of a drawing acting as a fully blown set of specifications that lead to the ultimate realization of an object. Instead, my contention is that the representations act as a sort of socio-technical object that creates a type of fertile zone that allows the object to come in to meaning. The theatrum machinarum, for example, don't necessarily depict real objects. In fact, some of the representations are quite astounding and impossible. Yet, the engineers of the day-such as they were-used these objects as tools in order to create other objects. As a tribute to the king, these books through the intervention of privileges granted by the king would enable the engineers to create objects. Similar arguments could be made about our current handbooks. Depictions in AGS, for example, may serve not just as a source of information for architects but as rhetorical devices to align patrons, funders, and civil authorities.

My supervisor (BF from now on) noted that there seems to be a great difference between the TM and AGS. The distance between the object and the representation is considerably greater in the TM than in AGS. So the answerable question becomes, how did this distance shrink? How is the functioning of legitimation different between AGS and TM?

Lacking a graphical tool, I’m reduced to ASCII art to attempt this visualization:

Theatrum Machinarum: Representation ----------- d.1 ------------ Object
AGS: Representation ----------- d.2 ------------ Object

From a mathematical perspective d.2 << d.1. How did it get there? Or is it? The actual representations contained in the TM may be more realistic, but the objects seem less possible. Hmmm…

Pulling in another mathematical notion, we can introduce the idea of limits i.e., d.n approaches 0. This reduction in distance has involved all sorts of different factors. This depiction of representation demonstrates two different phenomena. The first phenomena—and most obvious—stems from the actual art and practice of representation. What tropes and visual rhetorics did designers adopt to improve their representations? The depictions of the actual artifacts don’t appear to be more realistic but there is a closer alignment between the representation and the object. The beautifully rendered plates of Besson (originally engraved by Androuet du Cerceau, Jacques, fl. 1549-1584) or Ramelli (likely engraved by Amboise Bachot) are certainly as realistic as the AGS but seem less so due to their content. So how did this validity come to be?

I suppose my first step should be to actually sit down with the works and document what does or doesn’t seem realistic. With this list I can begin to scratch at the various features that have created the aura of legitimacy and explicate the back-story. Some features come immediately to mind:

1. The rise of standards of graphical representation
2. The emergence of professional bodies of practice to create the authority
3. The role of patrons. Nb. This role has been eroded fairly steadily by various interventions:
a. The authority of professions replacing the power of monarchs or authorities: Witz, Friesen, Abott, etc.
b. The flow of documentation replacing the radiance of power from a central monarch. This concept introduces notions of genres and boundary objects i.e., Yates, Orlikowski, Star, etc.
c. The ongoing tension with Patronage in modern architectural practice and the continued existence of particular documentary forms catering to patrons i.e., technical illustrations such Brunel’s Great Eastern (Baynes and Pugh, etc.)
4. Other actor-networks may be involved in the creation of this operation:
a. Publishers
b. Book sellers
c. Educational and legislative bodies

I’m sure that this list could go on, and on. But at least I have a start.

The role of classification

Another area of interest has emerged that really calls for additional analysis. Since the 6th edition, AGS has been ordered based on the CSI MasterFormat. It would be very interesting to cast some light on this little anecdote. How and why did AGS adopt MasterFormat? What effect does the CSI order have on the overall legitimating influence of AGS? For that matter, where did MasterFormat come from?

These questions are interesting… to me at least. Unfortunately, they’re also very elusive. I’ve come to the conclusion that the most interesting questions have no answers. When you scratch at the surface of some questions, answers—or at least approaches—begin to emerge. If literature on the topic doesn’t exist, the problem at least exposes its pale under-belly to the plunging blade of method and analytical approach. The relationship between AGS and MasterFormat is not one of those types of questions. Instead, when I scratch at this particular question it collapses into dust because the background has been buried (as discursive formations tend to do).

The question is an interesting one but getting the answers will take some digging at Wiley, AGS, and CSI.


The least developed of my ideas concerns the intertextuality of image and text in technical handbooks. I’m not sure if I’ll get there.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Quick thought: Ramelli, Besson, and edition fecundity

Why was Besson so widely published while Ramelli, arguably a more detailed and beautiful work, was only published once? One reason may be the publication background. Ramelli’s work, for example, was published “a Parigi : In casa del'autore” while Besson’s later editions were published by Vincent in Lyons. More over, we know that Ramelli likely employed Amboise Bachot as engraver and maintained his own plates. Besson, however, had the highly talented Jacques Androuet du Cerceau as engraver. It’s possible that du Cerceau held on to the plates or sold them off to Vincent. Besson couldn’t have opposed the move: he was dead by 1573 having only self-published his work. As noted by Ronald Brashear, the subsequent editions were published by Barthélemy Vincent, included detailed descriptions by François Béroalde de Verville, and featured the original plates (with the exceptions of 17, 35, 39, and 51 which were newly engraved by René Boyvin).

So what was the connection between Besson, du Cerceau, and Vincent? Will we ever know? What does this anomaly mean for documentation?

Sunday, June 12, 2005

JW, analyst reports, and documentalism

As I continue my quest for information on John Wiley and Sons I've decided to turn to their finanical info. At the very least, in the financial world I can use a much shorter title: JW (their NYSE ticker symbol). Courtesy of Gale, I have access to a number of analyst reports on JW. Credit Suisse First Boston (CSFB) wrote a particularly complete report when they initiated coverage in 2002. The 46-page report is completely useless but incredibly interesting. It talks of goals and expectations, history and future, and--above all--predictions. To develop credibility in their work CSFB drops all sorts of graphs and formulae which resemble alchemy to my unconditioned eyes. By looking to analyst reports for insight on the mysterious documentary form of technical handbooks it seems that I've stumbled across yet another one: the anlyst report.

Several years ago I wrote some short pieces about the analyst report as text but I didn't have the background to give it a rigorous treatment. Given the predominance of the analyst report in financial circles it would see that these things carry a great deal of authority. Their history, however, is rather dark. Turning to the OPAC of my trusty local academic library I came across only three works with the subject code of "securities--research". It seems this code is similarly undersubscribed the Library of Congress since only five titles make the cut, and one is simply a new edition of one of the other four. These four works represent a nice spread across time and would make for a very interesting discourse analysis:

- Hooke, Jeffrey C. (1999). Security analysis on Wall Street: a comprehensive guide to - today's valuation methods.
- National Bureau of Economic Research (1946). Research in securities markets.
- National Bureau of Economic Research (1954). Research in capital and securities markets.
- And something in Japanese!

Of course, there a whole pile of works within "Investment analysis" but the focus seems to be a bit different. The TSE's Setting analyst standards : recommendations for the supervision and practice of Canadian securities industry analysts : Securities Industry Committee on Analyst Standards final report may be worth a read.

I seem to recall seeing some academic research on a similar topic, particularly in the journal Accounting, Organizations, and Society. The reference lists may be valuable:

- McKinstry, S. (1996). Designing the annual reports of Burton PLC from 1930 to 1994. AOS 21.1: 89-111
- Preston, A., Wright, C., Young, J. (1996). Imag[in]ing annual reports. AOS 21.1: 113-137
- Graves, O.F., Flesher, D.L., Jordan, R.E. (1996). Pictures and the bottom line: the television epistemology of U.S. annual reports. AOS 21.1: 57-88
- Neu, D., Warsame, H., Pedwell, K. (1998). Managing public impressions: environmental disclosures in annual reports. AOS 23.3: 265-282
- Vergoossen, R.G.A. (1997). Changes in accounting policies and investment anlysts' fixation on accounting figures. AOS 22.6: 589-607.

Hold the press! Someone may have already been there (recently):

Fogarty, T.L., Rogers, R.K. (2005). Financial analysts' reports: an extended institutional theory of evaluation. ASO 30.4: 331-356.

I'll have to see what their take is. The reference list is pretty trippy--and I thought my research was wierd. Other than some old standards (Abbott, Freidson, Giddens, Mintzberg, Weick) the authors seem to be very domain specific. The number of titles in the reference list with word "information" in the title is particularly alarming. A deflationary documentalist analysis of the same subject may be in order... at some other time far in the future when all of my current projects are completed.

In their introduction, Fogarty and Rogers introduce the "bible of analysis", Graham and Dodd's Security Analysis--another good target for discourse analysis. First published in 1934, the work has been updated a number of times. The most recent edition in my library is from 1988. However, the early editions seem to be quite popular. Suprisingly, the 1934 edition is still stored in the stacks and is currently out. Judging by the prolonged return date, it seems that some Professor/PhD type is currently using it for some reason. Both the 1934 and the 1940 edition are also available as new paperbacks from McGraw-Hill, and can be had in 24-hours from
Secondary sources

I haven't completely despaired of my quest for Wiley. While I still intend on contacting the AGS editor to get some back story, I may be able to glean some information from the trades. And boy, is it ever ugly! Here's a rough cut of potential sources for my next biblio-forray:


1. American library annual. 1955/56 to 57/58. Bowker. RDL Delivery LOAN Z731.B68
2. American library annual and book trade almanac. 1959. Bowker. RDL Delivery LOAN Z731.B68 1959
3. American library and book trade annual. Bowker. 1960-61. RDL Delivery LOAN Z731.B68 1960
4. The Bowker annual of library and book trade information. Bowker. ARCC Delivery LOAN 1967-1999; IMS 1997; DBW 2000-

Publishers' Weekly

Microfilm: Z1219.P82. There may be some very relevant information lurking in the pages of PW. I have no idea. To make things worse, I'm not sure if there's an index for PW or if there are any bibliographic aids at all! And it's all on microfilm... No full text search for me, just 130-years of biweekly publication.Yikes!


1. American book publishing record. 1960-1983. RDL Delivery LIB USE ONLY Z1219.A52
2. The Author speaks : selected PW interviews, 1967-1976 / by Publishers weekly editors and contributors. DBW. PN453.A9 1977
3. The Business of publishing : a PW anthology / with an introd. by Arnold W. Ehrlich. BUS Z285.B86
Research Conundrum: Cataclysm and documentation

I've run into a bit of a snag. As I gaily pursue my research topic--technical handbooks from two specific eras--I find myself constantly returning to the earlier era. It's possible that I just prefer the era but I suspect my return is because there is so much research available. It seems contradictory: How can there be more information available about publishing conditions in the 1600s than there is from the last century? My only response is to say: "there is."

I'm reminded of Paul Rosen's criticisms of the SCOT program of research. Contrasting his own research on mountain bikes to Bijker's research on the "safety bicycle" of the nineteenth century, Rosen claimed that relevant social groups had not yet emerged from the story of the mountain bike to make a SCOT approach feasible. I'm seeing similar things with publishing.

The era of the theatrum machinarum is now well documented. We have statements from contemporary publishers and users (e.g., Hooke), and whole collections of critical materials. I can turn to Bagioli or Shapin and Schaffer or Eisenstein or Johns. Each of these casts insights directly relevant to a SCOT analysis of technical handbooks. Of course, that other criticism of SCOT emerges: perhaps the publishing world depicted by these authors isn't actually reflective of the conditions of the era but rather of their own academic whims. At the very least, however, I still have something to write about!

Turning my attention to the last century and the various editions of Architectural Graphic Standards, things become much murkier. I'm reminded of Johns's comments in his "The Nature of the Book":

"In short, The Nature of the Book claims that the very identity of print itself has to be made. It came to be as we now experience it only by virtue of hard work, exercised over generations and across nations. That labor has long been overlooked, and is not now evident. But its very obscurity is revealing. It was dedicated to effacing its own traces, and necessarily so: only if such effort disappeared could printing gain the air of intrinsic reliability on which its cultural and commercial success could be built. Recovering it is therefore a difficult task, but one well worth attempting." (Pg. 2-3)

Johns, of course, is referring to the literature from the dawn of the scientific revolution. His comments are just as relevant to a more recent era of publishing. For example, John Wiley and Sons--the publisher of AGS--has received very little critical commentary. Despite being a behemoth in the world of scientific and technical publishing they have gone without notice. In essence, Wiley has "effaced its own traces." The most recent work published about Wiley is from 1982. Far from being a critical commentary, "One hundred and seventy five years of publishing" is a self-congratulatory pean. I can glean information from Wiley's annual reports and 10-K filings but these sources of information are far from critical and won't reveal any insight into the actual functioning of the organization. It seems that I'm left with the option of hitting the phones and conducting interviews with Wiley "experts". So much for "domain analysis" of "documentary sources"!

While Wiley lurks in shadows, I've found considerably more information about one of the AGS precursors: Sweet's catalogue. The information I has was able to uncover had far more to do with scandal and glitter than with critical commentary. Clinton W. Sweet founded the catalogue and then sold the enterprise to F.W. Dodge. Later, Sweet committed suicide leaving sizable inheritances for his two sons. F.W. Dodge, meanwhile sold out to McGraw-Hill. One of Sweet's sons, in turn, married an heiress of the McGraw family in a society wedding. While this information is quite interesting, it is hardly the sort of commentary that would support a SCOT analysis! I suppose Marc Bloch's comment that historians need a good cataclysm for the maintenance of the documentary record is bang on.