Thursday, April 12, 2007

Engineers in England: Jacopo Aconcio

One of the most famous English engineers wasn't even English, he was Italian. Jacopo Aconcio was far more than an engineer. He was also a courtier, theologian, and humanist. Schullian notes: "He who would study Aconcio needs infinite patience and delicately balanced judgement. Doughts and enigmas abound through the reformers's career..." (202)

England became a welcome haven for reformers during the reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI. Mary's bloody reign temporarily slowed the immigration but it regained vigour with the open policies of Elizabeth. People with very specific skills came from France and Italy to start a new life. As learned Protestants flooded into England, they exceed the carrying capacity of institutions such as the church, the bureacracy, and academia. Many had to explore new opportunities. Aconcio, a noted academic and reformer, was just such an individual. White notes that he embodied two of the greatest societal changes of the 16th century: the Protestant Reformation and new military technology driven by the advent of mobile cannon.

The details of his birth are unknown. By 1548 he was working as a notary at Trent. Between 1549 and 1556 Aconcio was in the retinue of Count Francesco Landriano. He would have come into contact with other associates of Landriano such as the engineer Francesco Ferretti (author of Dell'osservanza militare. Venice 1568). Landriano went on to represent Pius IV in the spring of 1563 in his dealings with Philip II. This connection suggests a potential link between Aconcio and Ramelli but Pius IV was made pope in January 1560, well after Medeghino's death and Aconcio's departure for England. In 1556 he was the secretary to cristoforo Cardinal Madruzzo, Charles V's governor of Milan. Things seemed to have turned for Aconcio and he fled his home in 1557. He first went to Switzerland, then to Alsace, and then ultimately to England at the invitation of the new Queen in early September of 1559.

England was in desperate need of skilled engineers as demonstrated by the fall of Calais in January 1558. Fortification was still a new thing at the time. The first works on fortification had only appeared in Venice in 1554 and in France in 1556. William Cecil was an avid collector of books. White notes that he wrote to the English ambassador of France asking for books on architecture and the new military science. Cecil wrote that he had read Vitruvius, Leo Baptista Alberti, and Durer but is interested in other works as well.

One of his most important learned treatises is a work devoted to method. De Methodo was published in Basel in 1559. As noted by McKeon, this work was an attempt to rationalize the use of method in both medicine and philosophy. It's indicative of a far broader interest in both science and philosophy.The process revealed in this work is also indicative of Aconcio's approach to all activities. White writes: "Aconcio's mental process was permeated by the mathematical method of starting from clear and concrete principles, and passing step by step to greater generality and simplicity." (426)

Aconcio's start in England was far from stellar. He had associated with individuals who had conspired against Mary and the taint transferred to the new monarch. He was excommunicated by Edmund Grindal, the Bishop of London, due to his association with Anabaptists and Arian principles.

He was a man of many talents and decided to pursue the course of an engineer. But first, he needed to secure some degree of protection for his intellectual property. In 1559, he worte to Elizabeth: "I have discovered most useful things, which when known will be used without my consent, except there be a penalty, and I, poor with expenses and labor, shall have no returns. Therefore I get a prohibition against using any wheel machines, either for grinding or bruising or any furnaces like mine." (Jones 243)

His petition called for a patent on "new designs of machines of all sorts that use [water] wheels, and a new design for building funaces for dryers and those who make beer, and for other uses, with a great saving of fuel." (White 432) Patents were relatively unknown in England at the time. Aconcio would surely have been aware of the success of one of Cardano's mill designs due a patent granted by Charles V. From this start Aconcio began to develop a reputation as a builder of machines. He was eventually granted a pension of 60 pounds on February 27 1560.

Subsequently, he divised a plan for draining lands flooded by the Thames. In early 1563 he petitioned the Queen for the right to reclaim 2000 acres in Lesnes, Erith, and Plumstead. The bill was introduced to parliament on February 25 1563. On June 23 1563, he received a commision from Elizabeth and began draining Plumsted Marsh near Erith. Due to a precedent established by Henry VIII, part of his compensation was title to one half of the drained territory. In 1566 Aconcio turned his share of the project back to the original investors. Although the project had met with many challenges, Aconcio may have just had too little time to devote to the project due to his growing responsibilities. The success of his project started a wave of efforts in such as the work of Peter Morris in the 1580s to drain the fens of Ely.

Having established his reputation as an entrepreneur, Grindal recieved Aconcio back into the church.

In the summber of 1564 Aconcio adopted one of the other mantles of sixteenth century engineers: builder of fortifications. The building of certain fortifications had met with excessive administrative problems throughout the 1560s. During his review of the ongoing building at Berwick-upon-Tweed he came into contact with powerful patrons such as Francis Russell, the Earl of Bedford, and William Cecil, Secretary of State and Elizabeth's most trusted aid. He also met Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. He was also a friend to Giovanni Battista Castiglione, the Queen's physician, and corresponded with Emperor Maximillian II.

In his approach to fortification Aconcio felt that it was important to learn everything possible since besieged cities fell so infrequently: "Moreoever, my mind was long since vexed with plans to flee whither I might freely profess the Gospel, and I thought it possible that if I might learn this art it would thereafter give me a living. So I set myself in earnest to learning it. Whenver I had a chance I carefully questioned everyone what they had tried to do, and what they admird or condemned in every fortress." (White 440)

In 1564 Aconcio also returned to the world of humanist scholarship by writing an Italian work on how to apply method to the study of history. It was published by Blundeville and represents the first of an entire series of works that applied method to various fields of human endeavour. White mentions that one of these works may have been devoted to fortification but that it had become a "bibliographic ghost." Stephen Johnston may have found it in an English translation.

In 1566 he penned perhaps his most famous work, Satanae Stratagematum and dedicated it to Elizabeth. She in turn pushed through a 1566 bill that granted him permission to continue draining sections of Plumsted Marsh. Elizabeth's reponse represents a very interesting reward for a book of such theological importance!

Aconcio died in 1566 or 1567.


Jones, William M. 1955. Two learned italians in Elizabethan England. Italica. 32.4: 242-247.McKeon, Richard. 1966. Philosophy and the development of scientific methods. Journal of the History of Ideas. 27.1: 3-22.
Schullian, Dorothy M. 1956. Review: Jacopo Aconcio by Charles Donald O'Malley. Isis. 47.2: 201-203.
White, Lynn. 1967. Jacopo Aconcio as an Engineer. The American Historical Review. 72.2: 425-444.
Engineering vs. Engineering Science

I'm listening to a screaming baby. Just how many times will I have to teach Finn to sleep by himself before he turns two?

He's down. And now on to other things namely the difference between engineering and engineering science.

Several years ago I was taking a course on information sources for scientists and engineers. The class involved a number of guest speakers, one of whom was a researcher from the engineering faculty. The information world that he described seemed very different from my workaday experience as an engineer in the real world. I realized that he was describing the world of engineering science.

Engineering science is also academic engineering. It inherits a great deal from scientific method. It is about conducting experiments and creating models. The experiments, however, seem to differ considerably from those put forward in science. Engineering scientists don't test hypotheses, they document limits. They determine just how much a certain material can be torqued or how materials can be transformed into new ones--or how they can't. Whereas the scientist is out to establish truth, the engineering scientist documents limits. I find it telling that I never learned about some of the very basic scientific tools when I was in engineering school. We learned a great deal about probability theory but I never learned about inferential statistics.

The engineer has very different aims from the engineering scientist. The engineer wants to attain an objective. For the earliest engineers, the objective was generally breaching a defensive bastion in the most expeditious manner. The modern engineer has different objectives: designing a foundation that will withstand a load, redesigning an industrial process, or creating a mechanical linkage with very particular constraints and dimensions. The limits established by the engineering scientist are only part of obtaining these objectives. In certain ways, the documented limits define an envelope within which design is most expeditious. These limits, for example, become reified into both building codes and standardized building material. By staying within the codes and using standard materials the engineer is sure to attain the objective in the most efficient manner. But there may be objectives that force the engineer to innovate beyond the limits by creating new structural forms or establishing new processes. The limits of the engineering scientist are only heuristics for the attaining the objectives of the engineer.
Information Needs and Uses and Market Research Data

My head hurts. I'm stuck in the mental trap that occurs when people indoctrinated in esoteric information science traditions like documentation and HIB face off against market researchers. The question is so simple: How do decision makers use information at various stages of the buying process? The naive answers seem so straight forward. They use the Web; they get information from colleagues; they depend on internal processes... but they're meaningless. I need to write my way out.


It's a loaded worded. What exactly is information? It's that amorphous cloud that represents the material reality of the verb "to inform". With the new digital realities, even the material component is somewhat suspect. I always advocate to move away from the word "information" and toward more precise terms. "Documents" will work, as will "process" or "individuals". "Information", however, is just too amorphous.

There is another problem with information. The scenario we've set up describes a linear process in which decision makers navigate a linear set of stages and eventually take one specific action--the purchase. "Information" serves as inputs to these various stages. It seems unlikely to me that the decision-making process is as straight forward as our model suggests. There are likely to be any number of "stops" (to use Dervin's expression) that could be related to any number of issues: funding, personnel changes, executive support, etc. Furthermore, the inputs to any particular stage are likely far more nuanced that just "information". As I know from my comps on HIB, different types of professionals use information in different ways. Engineers--perhaps the most comparable to IT professionals--rely on at-hand information such as internal reports and interaction with colleagues.

One of the tricks will be linking information needs with various problems, stops, or gaps. So what are these gaps? And what are the sources?


Dervin identifies a number of different types of stops. Her taxonomy may be leveragable for the current application:

* Decision stop: two or more roads ahead.
* Barrier stop: one road ahead, but blocked.
* Spin-out stop: no road.
* Wash-out stop: road disappears.
* Problematic stop: being dragged down a road.
* Perceptual embeddedness: how foggy is the road.
* Situational embeddedness: how many intersections.
* Social embeddedness: how many people are also travelling.

Now I can begin to break these topics down into some issues that are relevant for IT decision-makers:

* Decision stop.
-- Too many product choices
-- Too many strategic projects
-- Conflicting project priorities
* Barrier stop.
-- Lack of project funding.
-- Lack of corporate sponsorship.
-- Inability to create vendor list.
-- Inability to evaluate vendors.
-- Inability to arcticulate requirements.
-- Unable to find expertise.
-- Inability to adequately manage the project.
* Spin-out stop.
-- Unable to find a product/solution provider
* Wash-out stop.
-- Inability to formulate a project plan.
* Problematic stop.
-- Senior management drives the process.
-- Functional management drives process.
-- Consultant drives the process.
-- Supplier/Reseller drives the process.
* Perceptual embeddedness.
-- Inability to articulate the business need.
-- Inability to understand the solution space.
-- Inability to assess vendor/supplier competence.
* Situational embeddedness.
-- Inability to get buy-in from project stake holders.
* Social embeddedness.
-- Inability to address tensions between stakeholders.

Internal Sources

There are a variety of internal resources that decision makers could possibly leverage. Unfortunately, I don't have a convenient list to start brainstorming. Or rather, I don't have access to one!

* Colleagues within the enterprise.
-- End-users.
-- Functional management.
-- Senior management.
-- Business analysts.
-- Project managers.
-- IT staff: data centers.
-- IT staff: application development and maintenance.
-- IT staff: support.
* Colleagues within the industry.
* Internal reports.

External Sources

There are also a wide range of external sources of information that individuals could possibly rely on:

* Scholarly articles.
* Trade press: print.
* Trade press: web.
* Analyst and consultant reports.
* Webinars.
* Blogs and wikis.
* Support forums.
* General trade shows and conferences.
* Vendor-specific trade shows and conferences.

Process Sources

* Governance frameworks.
* Project management frameworks.
* Preferred vendor strategy.
* Internal policies and guidelines.

It's ugly but it's a start.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Engineers in England: Girolamo Pennacchi

I don't know a lot about Girolamo Pennacchi (although Carlo Promis might). According to Duffy, Henry VIII hired him to conduct his siege of Boulogne in 1544. He was apparently paid the almighty sum of 5000 pounds per year and was given a house. This amount seems almost unbelievable. Consider that John Rogers was being paid 50 pounds per year at approximately the same time. Regardless, Pennacchi's success was short-lived; he was cut in two by a cannonball during the siege.

According to the Timeline of Art History, he was also known as Girolamo da Treviso the younger
and worked as a painter of some minor repute.

There may be more details on Pennacchi but I don't want to bother looking. The Grove Dictionary of Art may be a good start. Carlo Promis will likely have some details. And it seems that Duffy's research is based on Oman's classic "Art of War in the 16th Century."

UPDATE: I've crunched the salary numbers. John Rogers salary was the equivalent of about 3.9x the salary of building craftsmen in London. In other measures, it would equal over 100,000 eggs or 68,000 liters of beer.
Engineers in England: John Rogers

England also sought the services of different engineers to create coastal defenses and to protect both the northern border with Scotland and its continental possessions. One of the earliest engineers of note was John Rogers who served Henri VIII.

Rogers began his career as a tradesman. He was apprenticed as a mason and eventually became both a surveyor and an engineer. He is notable for his early use of scaled drawings and plans to both depict designs and to document various locales and constructions since there were no standard drawing conventions in the time of Henry VIII. As noted by Shelby, Rogers created two different types of drawings: practical construction drawings and working plans and presentation drawings.

He primarily worked at Boulogne and Calais where his roles included manager, fortification designer, hydraulic engineer, obtainer of labour, purchaser of materials, and maintainer of accounts. To finalize his fortification designs, Rogers needed to communicate extensively with the king to get approval. Drawings--or "plats"--served as the tool for visual communication. Henderson has noted that drawings can serve as "recruitment devices." Shelby notes:

“Thus the design of a new work was often the result of a co-operative endeavor, in which an initial plan might be devised on the spot by the surveyor in conjunction with one or more advisers, both military and technical. This plan would be submitted in the form of a plat to the king and his ministers, who would make changes or approve the plan as presented. Work on the project could then get under way.” (pg. 87)

In addition to his work as an engineer and manager, Rogers was also employed as a spy due to his ability to survey. He performed intelligence work at Guines in 1540 and Scotland in 1544. An ability to survey certainly seems to be a common task for engineers. Bachot, for example, devoted various plates to the practice of surveying in his books and Ramelli was captured by Huguenots while surveying the harbour of La Rochelle.

Rogers was in his ascendancy between 1545 and 1546. Shelby notes:

"Henry's confidence in Rogers's ability and judgment increased rapidly during the following year as a result of the exchange of ideas through letters, plats, and personal interviews which the king and his surveyor enjoyed." (pg. 88)

While Rogers was popular with the king, he often fell afoul of various ministers and military officers due to his blunt and plain-spoken manner. As a practical mason and engineer, Rogers had little use for the overly formal and affected manner of courtiers and bureaucrats. Furthermore, his expertise as an engineer demanded that he find material weakness in various defensive arrangement. This practice necessarily led him into confrontation with the established military order. Conflict between engineers and military officers was not uncommon. Langins, for example, describes a very similar occurrence in France.

Not all of Rogers's work was a success. In 1564, for example, two other engineers in English employee criticised his designs. In their commentary on the limitations of a design for the fortifications at Berwick-upon-Tweed, Giovanni Portinari and Jacopo Aconcio made reference to the failure of Rogers's bastions at Ambleteuse due to their small size.

Rogers also dabbled in hydraulic engineering. He worked to restore various harbours along the southern coast of England, specifically Folkestone, Sandwich, and Dover. At Sandwhich, he suggested a new cut which would involve a great deal of digging so machines would have been very useful. Ash may provide some more detail of Rogers's activities at Dover.

After a distinguished career, Rogers died as a POW after Calais fell to the Duke of Guise during the reign of Queen Mary. He was one of the last Medieval craftsmen/architects. The entire nature of architecture was changing as Italians sought to emulate the classical forms of Rome. According to Shelby, it was becoming "bookish, antiquarian, and archaeological." Rogers is evidence of the rising demand for practical engineers as architecture became increasingly academic. The specialized military engineer emerged in the 1550s (also see Hale), almost immediately after the death of Rogers.

It's interesting to note that the specialized architect became the military engineer of Italy. But England was a different story. Rogers was a military engineer before the first specialized architect emerged in the person of Inigo Jones.

Shelby's study of Rogers provides some guidance on the how engineers were paid. Richard Lee, Rogers's supervisor, was paid 30 pounds a year and was given a house to live in. Stefan von Haschenberg, from Germany, received an annuity of 75 pounds in 1540.

In his discussion of Rogers, Shelby asks some important questions that need to be answered by historians of engineering:

"who was responsible for design and supervision of building? What was the relation between the designer and the patron of the building? What educational background and special training did the designer normally enjoy? What was his social and economic status? And finally, when did engineering become a profession separate from architecture?" (pg. 127)

Simon Pepper also makes reference to Rogers. His account is primarily a retelling of Shelby's in-depth study. Pepper does, however, pose additional questions of interest, particularly in light of Rogers's more successful colleague Sir Richard Lee:

"The social divide between John Rogers--master mason, surveyor, and part-time spy--and Sir Richard Lee--international soldier, courtier, and fortification expert--encapsulates a number of distinctions which were probably even more important in a military circles than in civil and ecclesiastical architecture. These factors--which in some parts of Italy probably helped to advance progress because of expertise or at least understanding on the part of military society's leading figures--may well have contributed to the relative backwardness of England's military engineering." pg. 139


Pepper, Simon. 2003. Artisans, architects and aristocrats: Professionalism and Renaissance military engineering. In D.J.B. Trim (Ed.) The chivalric ethos and the development of military professionalism. History of warfare, v. 11. (pp. 117-147) Leiden: Brill.
Shelby, Lon R. 1967. John Rogers, Tudor Military Engineer. New York : Oxford University Press.
Engineers in Malta

After reading and writing about Ramelli I feel that I have to circle back and cover off some other parts of the world. One of the most interesting hubs of fortification activity was Malta.

The Knights of St. John arrived in Malta in 1530 and they quickly began to build out the fortifications of the island. The Ottoman Empire launched a major attack in 1565 which the Knights were able to repel. In many ways, Malta was on point for the protection of Christendom. It was the most exposed part of the Aragonese Empire. Successive waves of engineers visited the island to consult on the fortifications. To use Latour's expression, it became a "centre of calculation" for early engineering knowledge.

Malta depended on a succession of visiting engineers. They were among the first consulting engineers and were granted dispensation from their patrons to perform duties in Malta. They weren't paid for this service nor were they considered full-time residents of Malta or members of the Order of St. John. They were, however, treated very well and were often given valuable departing gifts. In many ways, these engineers were the super stars of the day and could affect a haughty manner. In addition to gifts, the engineers could gain social status. Francesco Paciotto, for example, was knighted by Philip II and eventually became the Count of Fonte Fabbri (but surely his status had more to do with his work in Turin and Antwerp than his work in Malta).

The engineers who worked at Malta include Pietro Paolo Floriani, son of Pompeo Floriani, an early author of fortification treatises. Gabrio Serbelloni was also in Malta in 1565. Serbelloni was a cousin to Pius IV (and El Medeghino). Some engineers, such as Mederico Blondel (brother of Francoise) stayed for many years and were given authority over both military fortifications and civil works such as aqueducts and fountains. This occurrence seems to be a rare one since the high profile engineers were rarely involved in civil works although domestic engineers sometimes did both.

The pay scale for engineers in Malta varied from about 25 Scicilian scudi per month in the late 16th century, to 30 scudi in the 17th century, to 50 scudi in the 18th century. It's unclear whether this pay scale applied to domestic engineers or to the foreign specialists who were supposed to be unpaid.

Fortification was very much a gentleman's occupation, as were the pursuit of math and science. As such, engineers were very well placed for good social standing and promotion within various bureaucracies. Unlike scientists, mathematicians, or alchemists, however, engineers were not protected by complicated symbolic languages so there work was open to criticism from various armchair engineers.


Hoppen, Alison. 1981. Military engineers in Malta. 1530-1798. Annals of Science. 38.4: 413-433.