VISUALS & REPRESENTATIONS: Giant’s Shoulders #28


David Bressan discusses the value of scientific caricatures,especially those by English geologist Henry De la Beche (1796-1855), in both revealing and teaching aspects of the history of geology.

The caricature by De la Beches of Charles Lyell as Prof. Ichthyosaurus on the pages of Francis Buckland's "Curiosities of Natural History" (1858).

Michael Barton also discusses cartoons and caricatures representing Darwin of evolution (in its various forms). He remarks on how evolution was used as a means to comment on society and culture and includes some fantastic cartoons in his post.

(Editorial) cartoons carry significant political meanings above all others–I’m reminded here of Punch’s (conservative) satirical humour on politics, which, in light of its more liberal counterparts, became a staple in drawing rooms.

I see an eye! Or a portal?!

Oh wait…it’s just the Helix Nebula. Make sure to check out the European Southern Observatory’s collection of Top 100 Images. They’re a must-see!

Speaking of stars, Robert W. Lebling has a phenomenal article on “Arabic in the Stars,” narrating three “waves of knowledge” that introduced Arabic-origin star names to the West:

  • The First Wave of medieval times, with the greatest number of Arabic star names, including the Ptolemaic corpus (150 ce), moving from al-Sufi (964 ce) to the astronomical compendium of Spain’s King Alfonso x.
  • The Second Wave of the late Renaissance, with most of the star names moving from the first printed edition of the works of Alfonso x (1483) and from the first printed edition of Ptolemy’s Almagest (Gerard’s 1175 Latin translation from Arabic, published in 1515) to Bayer’s Uranometria (1603).
  • The Third Wave of the 19th century, with most of the star names transmitted from al-Sufi to Ulugh Beg’s star list to Hyde’s translation (1665) to Piazzi’s Palermo star catalogue (1803).

Betelgeuse, in the constellation Orion, comes from an Arabic original whose first letter was inadvertantly changed by a 13th-century astronomer.

What a treat for your eyes: Part I of a Visual Chronology of Cosmologies

I adore John Lynch’s slides from his History of Science II (since 1700s) undergraduate course–they are so visually stimulating! Here’s the slides for his first lecture, “Revolution and Change in Science.” You can view the slides for his other lectures as well.

Talk about an identity crisis: In 1873, British anatomist Richard Owen described the Palorchestes as a very large kangaroo. Owen’s categorization held the standard until the 1970s, when the revised interpretation of the Palorchestes structured it as a large wombat:

Four views of Palorchestes: as a kangaroo, a pseudo-okapi, a “marsupial tapir”, and a “marsupial ground sloth.” Drawn from original sources by Greg Luker and included in Mackness, 2008

Also: Joanna Ebenstein (Morbid Anatomy) talks about how we can use the feelings an object or a collection of objects evoke to make the museum visit a personal and interesting journey; in other words, how do raise the “curious levels” of exhibits to draw in audiences?

A famous representation of a great vision: the DNA double-helix as visioned during the Tour de Francis.

How to steer a hurricane.


Bressan also provides another great post on forensic entomology and the depictions of these creatures in the middle ages as representing the sins of the dead.

Extending on my post on Hairy Women and Naked Truths, Homunculus Argument shares some thoughts of hisresearch on migratory legends and sexual motifs in images of wild men and wild women, and the meanings these images carried for sex, power, and prophecy.

A pure iconographic ornament: what goes on inside a dissection theater as mortal bodies and immortal souls are cut apart on the table for peering eyes? For that matter, why are the skeletons of Adam and Eve even in the theater?



Engraving by WiIllem Swanenburgh, 1616 (after the painting by J.C. Woudanus)

The wild and eerie Victorian world of Walter Potter! Morbid Anatomy previewed The Museum of Everything’s “Exhibition #3”, “a carnivalesque spree exploring all things collectory, side-show, circus, grotto, and taxidermological.” Totally fitting for October’s Giant’s Shoulders and other creepy and gruesome themes characteristic of..gasp!…Halloween!

Dear Dr. Skyskull, I apologize for this.

On a more gruesome–but medically fascinating–note…Here’s a case of “Inguinal hernia” of “69 years standing.” Beware: the image is not for the queasy.

Also not for the queasy (all from Morbid Anatomy):

  • bodies in jars. Images “Bocal I” and “Bocal II”, by Ludovic Levasseur, drypoint, 20th C.
  • Burns Archives: pictures of Irish patients from the 1870s pre and post-operation.
  • Birth and Resurrection in photos: based on an exhibit,“Memento Mori: The Birth and Resurrection of Postmortem Photography

Beautiful anatomical illustrations from Edo-period Japan (1603-1868). It’s incredible how colorful and richly detailed these drawings are and how the level of medical knowledge of bodies has changed over time.

Restoring sex power: Radioactive suppository sex aids & radium toothpaste for shining lethal nonsense. Seriously.



Shoebox letters for Magic Foot Drafts. This is awesome; the Quack Doctor blogged about Magic Foot Drafts, a remedy for rheumatism that required the patient to stick pine-tar-coated oilcloth plasters to the soles of their feet. One of the blog readers ran across the post while researching information for her grandfather’s collection of letters and then sent the letter to the Quack Doctor. What a historical find!

Thony C finally gives us an explanation of where (his) pictures come from, while narrating a brief history of the relationship between artistic representation and scientific illustration within developments made in print technologies.

Part one of The Munsterberg Connection: An examination of Hugo Munsterberg ‘s (1863-1916) ideas about psychology.

A biography of this guy:

Gauss Who? (terrible, I know!)

Also, who is Albert Einstein? (Really? How can you NOT know?!) *Blank face*

Come know who this is...

What did Darwin think about group selection? And Darwinius strikes back!!

But is Russell Crowe getting tired of donning gladiator armor? Who cares when it’s so fitting for his physique–here’s Michael Robinson’s teaser into his article on the Two Visions of Mars.

The “Disneyfication” of Wildlife films. No, it’s not about animating animals so they all look like Bambi.


Benjamin Franklin’s kite-flying shenanigans! As a member of the Royal Society, Franklin would have been obliged to publish in the Philosophical Transactions. Dr. Skyskull examines Franklin’s published accounts of his experiments with electricity.

From Natural Philosophy for Common and High Schools (1881) by Le Roy C. Cooley (source).

Does having fancy, shiny tools help the surgeon’s mood—or is cleanliness next to happiness? JF Ptak examines this strange relationship in “Ennui and Renaissance Surgical Tools”


A physician with things on/not on his mind, from Andrew Borde's The Breuiary of Healthe, for all maner of syknesses and diseases..." (1556)

Christopher Donohue discusses technological determinism and scientific reasoning within French philosopher Jacques’ Ellul’s Technique, in which technology has “defined the superstructure of contemporary society. A thought-proving blog on the theoretical elements of the history of technological determinism as discussed by great thinkers such as Leslie White and Lewis Mumford, among others. Donohue also has another great post on the various developing enterprises of “environmental determinism” in the 20th century foundation of the discipline of human geography.

Cartoons again! Is the image of the astronomer represented with a telescope out of (historical) style? Rebekah Higgitt examines how humor in print and cartoons portray a completely different picture of astronomers.

More on astronomy: a study by Professor Ray Norris, an astronomer for Australia’s science agency, the Commonwealth Scientific and Research Organization (CSIRO), reveals that Australian aborigines were the “world’s first astronomers.”

Newton’s early years playing with magic alchemy, or “Moonlighting as a Conjurer of Chemicals.”

Remember Futurama? The quirky offspring of Matt Groening, creator of The Simposons? Well, the show had a lot of futuristic technology that combined just the right elements of “sci-fi wit and humor.” Here we have the Top 10 “Futurama” inventions that should be real.
*Sorry fellow Canadians, but not all the videos are available for viewing. Or at least in Toronto. Maybe you Vancouver folks would have better luck.



British animal activism and legislation dates back as early as 1875. Guest blogger Eric Michael Johnson narrates how Charles Darwin was both a supporter of experimental physiology and against animal cruelty (especially vivisection).

The Cruelty to Animals Act, 1876

Relatively unknown texts written by those hiding in the shadows of giants can provide us with interesting sources for knowledge of 18th century experimental philosophy.  Alberto Vanzo narrates the views of Christian Wolff, a famous German philosopher, and explains Wolff’s knowledge of British experimental philosophy, especially against the views of Newton.

I still count with my fingers! But apparently Albert of Saxony wrote about the possibility of squaring the circle, in a little treatise called Quaestio de quadratura circuli (1350).

What does it take to discover a new particle? Read about the history of the neutrino.

A great piece by Boaz Miller on the science and politics of daylight savings time in Israel.

A satire: If you’re an STS scholar, how do you participate in a policy debate? Will Thomas discusses institutionalist studies and STS and examines how participation in public policy debates can lead to confusion–if not frustration–with the history of science.


Michael Barton over at The Dispersals of Darwin has compiled a “What’s New” on Darwin Online. Some of these were added to The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online and are useful teaching tools as well—I’ve actually recommended this site to my students in a course on the history of evolutionary biology.

NEW WEBSITE! Most Horrible & Shocking Murders: Murder pamphlets in the collection of the National Library of Medicine. Includes a selection of murder pamphlets from the late 1600s to the late 1800s.

Also, if you need a new reading list: The Proceedings of the California Academy of Sciences series 4, v.61, supplement II has several articles on Darwin and the Galapagos. Also, the Journal for General Philosophy of Science vol.41, no.1 (June 2010) focuses on Darwin as well: “Darwinism and Scientific Practice in Historical Perspective). And one more: A recent PhD dissertation, by Alistair Sponsel, now with the Darwin Correspondence Project’s office at Harvard: Coral reef formation and the sciences of earth, life, and sea, c. 1770-1952 (Princeton University, 2009, 498pgs).

In or near NC State University? Be sure to check out evolutionary biologist Will Kimler talk about “Images of Darwin and the Nature of Science.” Bonus: Free pizza!

In or near University of Toronto? Aaron from “False Vacuum” is organizing a workshop on “Visual Representation in Science” (my heart just skipped a beat) with speakers Brian Baigrie (UoT), Bernie Lightman (York), Natasha Myers (York), Alison Syme (UoT), and Aaron himself. Drop Aaron an email if you’re interested in attending.

CALL FOR PAPERS!!!!! I’m organizing the 7th annual HAPSAT conference, “The Regimen of Bodily Health: Nutrition and Natural Knowledge” with Prof. Steven Shapin as the keynote. It’s going to be a fantastic conference, so if you’re a graduate student, be sure to send in submissions by December 1. Or if you just want to attend the conference, let me know so I can make sure you get an email when registration is open.


Many thanks to everyone who sent in their posts–especially “serial commentator” Thony C! More thanks to Thony and Dr. Skyskull for their support. I enjoyed hosting my first carnival and look forward to doing it again in the future. For now, there’s only two more (!) Giant’s Shoulders for 2010. For November’s edition,Egil Asprem will be hosting an Esoteric Science special at Heterodoxology. As usual, send over your posts directly to Egil, or through the  Blog Carnival site. The chosen theme is explained as:

“To the layman, the natural sciences have become increasingly “esoteric” in the sense of being hard to access and difficult to understand. Throughout its history, science has been esoteric in other senses as well, connected with attempts to unravel the secrets of the book of nature, the understanding of occult properties and forces, and the quest for absolute, higher knowledge. This edition of Giants’ Shoulders is dedicated to all those esoteric pursuits of knowledge; a celebration of all strange, alien, and counterintuitive methods that have been attempted to dissect, read, or tame nature’s secrets, from renaissance natural philosophy to present-day Grand Unified Theories – whether cleverly inventive, hopelessly megalomaniac, or simply misguided.”

Happy blogging!

Latest Comments

  1. Thony C. says:

    Great job thank you.


  2. Jai Virdi says:

    So apparently I had two drafts of this post saved and failed to post some of the links. This is the recent & updated version. My apologies!


  3. Bora Zivkovic says:

    This is probably the biggest and most incredible edition of this carnival to date. I spent hours reading all the linked post and enjoyed every single on of them. Awesome! Thank you.


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