Dialing in Early Seventeenth-Century Europe

Early-modern luxury timekeeping

An ivory diptych dial made soli deo gloria by Paulus Reinman (active 1575-1609), in Nuremberg around 1602, at the time an important centre of manufacturing specialised in scientific instruments, including sundials such as this one.

This sundial is part of a remarkable Italian collection of objects for measuring and representing time, at the Poldi Pezzoli Museum in Milan. Photo by Geographies of Time, all rights reserved.

Pocket dials, formed by two leaves that fold flat when not in use with a string between the inner surfaces casting a shadow, were used to tell the time and, among other things, to regulate mechanical clocks, whose rapid technical development had by no means caused the abandonment of gnomon-based methods.

This dial worked at a multitude of latitudes, between Danzig and Sicily, listed on the vertical leaf. The finely decorated details and the very use of ivory for a secular luxury object indicate how it was intended for a wealthy clientele. The possibility of using it in a number of different places points to a potential user who was cosmopolitan in his or her interests, perhaps a noble with a refined aesthetic palate and friendships in various courts and cities of Europe, or perhaps a wealthy merchant with trades and interests around the Mediterranean, eager to show off his economic possibilities by surrounding himself with expensive objects.

The dial, around 11.5 x 9 cm, was to be oriented to the north by means of the compass encapsulated into the base. The string that served as gnomon had one end fixed immediately above the compass, while the other was inserted in one of six numbered holes on the vertical leaf to obtain different angles that made it usable at six different latitudes: the time was read by the shadow projected on one of the six rings on the horizontal surface. The list of cities on the vertical face indicates, for each place, the number corresponding to the hole to be used (54, 51, 48, 45, 42 and 39˚ N).

Ivory diptych dial by Paulus Reinman, detail. Photo by Geographies of Time, all rights reserved.

But this small object incorporated a remarkable plurality of functions. On the horizontal leaf the concave area with a fixed vertical pin is another sundial indicating the hour in two different systems which divided the day in 24 units: the Babylonian, beginning at sunrise, and the Italian, beginning at sunset.

On the vertical leaf two smaller sundials also constructed with fixed vertical brass pins indicated the number of hours of day-light in a given day of the year, between 8 and 16 depending by the position of the sun in the ecliptic (the one on the left, also with the signs of the zodiac represented around the edge) and the so-called “temporary” or “Jewish” hours – the division of the day in 12 parts, varying in length according to the time of the year (on the right).

On the top of the vertical surface there may be a windrose to identify the prevailing winds, and on the bottom an epact to calculate the date of Easter, such as in a very similar piece today at MAT – The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (accession number: 03.21.24), or perhaps a lunar volvelle with gilt-brass disc, such as in the specimen at the Whipple Museum of the History of Science, University of Cambridge (Holden-White collection no. 1935-42, accession no. 1688).

The two sundials on the vertical face are decorated with scenes of gallant life: a musician playing a string instrument with buildings in the background on the left and two lovers sitting on the right. The plants in both scenes perhaps intend to evoke the passage of time, recalling ideas of seasonality and cycles of life.

Thus, a multitude of technical and cultural trends converge in a minute object: the circulation of materials and luxury goods in Europe; the need for a standardized computation of time across geographical and political borders; the coexistence of mechanical and gnomonic systems of time calculation in the 1600s, and of different units of measurement of the year and day.

Further readings

Bruce Chandler and Clare Vincent, “A Sure Reckoning”, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 26, no. 4 (1967), 154-169.

Epact: Scientific Instruments of Medieval and Renaissance Europe, at Oxford, dir. Jim Bennett, 1998, current version 2006, https://www.mhs.ox.ac.uk/epact/, see “Paulus Reinman”, ad vocem.

Cite this article as: Giulia Iannuzzi, "Dialing in Early Seventeenth-Century Europe," in Geographies of Time, 23/08/2021, https://ian.hypotheses.org/1931.

This blog is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) license

Diasporic Communities in the Mediterranean

PIMo training school to be held in September 2021 – a tantalising programme of seminars, research development opportunities and guided visits to Inquisition archives and museums in Las Palmas

It is with great pleasure that I receive and publish a call for the training school Diasporic Communities in the Mediterranean: Between Integration and Disintegration, which will be held in September 2021 in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain, as part of the COST Action PIMo – People in Motion: Entangled Histories of Displacement across the Mediterranean (1492-1923) – chaired by Giovanni Tarantino.

The deadline to apply as trainees has been updated to June 30th.

Aimed at offering research development, training, and exchange of ideas for postgraduate students and early career researchers, this school focuses on histories of the Mediterranean as a place of interaction, circulation, exchange of ideas, objects, and people.

Entangled histories of the Mediterranean will be explored from the (inter-)disciplinary standpoint of Mediterranean Studies, Migration Studies, Cultural Transfers and History of Emotions, thanks to lectures and seminars delivered by prominent scholars in the field. The school’s programme also opens up excellent possibilities to discuss one’s own postdoctoral research project and obtain valuable feedback from colleagues and trainers, and includes a tantalising schedule of guided la tours, to Las Palmas Cathedral and the Diocesan Museum of Sacred Art (where trials before the Spanish Inquisition took place between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries), and the Museo Canario and the annexed Inquisition archives, accompanied by a talk by the Museum Director, Dr Daniel Pérez Estévez.

Vincenzo Coronelli, Accademia cosmografica degli Argonauti, Isole Canarie Possedutte da S.M. Cattolica (Venetia: per l’autore, 1697), detail. Engraved map of the Canary Island – upper inset is a detailed chart of the island of Madeira, and birds eye view of the town of Madera is shown below that shows buildings, lighthouse, fortifications and ships in the harbour and at the shore. Copy at David Rumsey Collection, © 2000 by Cartography Associates, under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0) licence.

Confirmed trainers include: Cátia Antunes (Leiden), Giedrė Blažytė (Vilnius), José María Pérez Fernándes (Granada), Tsolin Nalbantian (Leiden), Filipa Ribeiro da Silva (Amsterdam), Paola von Wyss-Giacosa (Zurich).

Full details are available at this EXTERNAL LINK.

The call completed text is at this ETERNAL LINK.

Expenses (up to 700 EUR per trainee) will be reimbursed in line with relevant COST rules. All application documents should be submitted directly to the attention of Professor Marta Bucholc on bucholcm@is.uw.edu.pl.

Science Fiction, Utopia, and Digital Humanities

Virtual archives, ideal libraries, new heuristics of the network

This article was first featured in Italian on the website of Apice (Archivi della Parola, dell’Immagine e della Comunicazione Editoriale, functional centre of the University of Milan), March 9, 2021. The author would like to thank Lodovica Braida for permission to translate and reproduce it here.

Interested in the relationship between humanity and techno-science, the speculative imagination thrives in the digital world. Indeed, science fiction has functioned as a hypothetical laboratory for experiments that have profoundly shaped the intersections between digital and humanistic studies. Starting at least with H.G. Wells’ World Encyclopaedia, with its neural structure – a prefiguration of our relational electronic databases -, concepts such as immersive virtual reality or artificial intelligence, and key reflections on the relations between corporeal physicality and digital dematerialisation have taken shape in the novels of authors such as Philip K. Dick, Anne McCaffrey, and William Gibson.

We therefore invite our readers to a brief survey of science fiction in the digital world, starting with this question: does speculative and utopian imagery constitute a particularly fruitful field of research for the humanities in the digital world? The answer – we are going to demonstrate with a few examples – can certainly be positive, at least in some important aspects of that multifaceted field undergoing tumultuous developments which goes by the name of digital humanities.

From the point of view of the accumulation and retrieval of textual information and bibliographic metadata, initiatives such as The Internet Speculative Fiction Database (started in 1995 and constantly being updated) show an impressive quantitative scope, and exploit the potential of crowd sourcing and cooperative construction procedures to support an open access model in favour of the end user. Cataloguing and encyclopaedic initiatives in the English-speaking world reflect an increasing global circulation of culture and translation trends that are bringing texts from non-European and non-Atlantic areas, such as China and Japan, to the international market. Exemplary of this is the space devoted to non-English speaking authors and works in the 18,000 entries of the Encyclopaedia of Science Fiction. Conceived by Peter Nicholls at the end of the 1970s, the SF Encyclopaedia came to the web in 2005, after several editions on paper and on CD-ROM – media that today would no longer be able to contain its extension. With its numerous international contributors and its team of editors-in-chief, it represents a mediation between open collaboration and authoritative authorship that is in many ways an alternative to the model typified by Wikipedia. The French-speaking world has also moved in this direction with the encyclopaedic portal Noosfere, which has been developed since 1999.

The web also makes multilingual resources or those that straddle linguistic-geographical borders accessible. Today, the European enthusiast can consult the young 中文科幻数据库 (CSFDB, Chinese Science Fiction Database) with the same browser with which she accesses the retrospective SF, Fantasy and Horror Catalogue founded by Ernesto Vegetti in 1958, which passed from computers and floppy disks to the Internet, and was closed in 2009 after having surveyed the fantastic in the history of books in Italy since 1602.

These are initiatives that have virtual communities behind them (not public and/or academic institutions) and therefore make the most of the possibility – made available by the Internet, and more specifically by the web – of structuring and operating groups of individuals who would otherwise be distant from each other, and of building ideal library catalogues that do not refer to physically existing collections.

In the academic field, may be mentioned the impressive utopian bibliography from 1516 to the present, compiled by Lyman Tower Sargent and hosted on the servers of the Penn State University Libraries, and the cornucopia of critical materials, bibliographical references, concordances, and electronic editions dedicated to the father of European utopia, The Essential Works of Thomas More, the result of collaboration between various scholars.

As for catalographic resources offering a web-based access point to real collections, one could list, alongside Apice’s catalogue, those of collections such as the Arthur O. Eaton Collection of Science Fiction and Fantasy (University of California), the Science Fiction Hub and Special collection (University of Liverpool), the Utopian Studies Collection (University of Missouri-St. Louis), or the Arthur O. Lewis Society for Utopian Studies papers (Pennsylvania State University). These are just a few representative examples of a much more articulated galaxy, surveyed by the SF Archival Collections Wiki maintained by librarians of various institutions, and literally mapped in SF Archival collection, administered in Googlemaps by The Eaton Journal of Archival Research in Science Fiction.

The Internet in 2003. Visualisation by OPTE Project – https://www.opte.org/the-internet, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. Graph engine LGL. Graph colours: red – Asia Pacific, green – Europe/Middle East/Central Asia/Africa, blue – North America, yellow – Latin American and Caribbean, light blue – RFC1918 IP Addresses, white – Unknown.

Much could be said about how the world of fantastic speculation has embraced the potential of digital content distribution – with scientific and amateur journals, directories, and resource portals – and communication – from yesterday’s BBSs to today’s newsletters, forums, and websites. It is perhaps more interesting, however, to offer some remarks on those areas with a specific heuristic potential. If we answered positively to the question “has science fiction contributed to shaping the digital humanities?” we can ask ourselves, on the other hand, if and how the tools that are now being developed in the field of digital humanities contribute to a better understanding of speculative fiction.

In this context too, key texts of the European tradition such as More’s Utopia continue to attract the attention and creativity of scholars. The Open Utopia project by Stephen Duncombe (New York University), for example, proposes a hypertextual and multi-codical edition as a starting point for new readings and actualisations of the text, and connects the main site to a collective writing project on a wiki platform.

Marking up texts and organising textual corpora open up new possibilities of constructing analyses and visualisations. Moving from books to texts, to data, to data analysis, the science fiction researcher sees the promising territories of geo-referencing, spatialised narration and network analysis ahead. Between Moretti’s distant reading and new semantic and formal-structural investigations, a multitude of possible quantitative and qualitative investigations are been made available.

Thus, we begin to circumscribe and process sets of sources in order to capture the evolution of interests and tastes, from the perspective of cultural history and sociology (the text-mining of science fiction corpora in current researches such as that of Alex Wermer-Colan‘s) or literary history (the analyses and visualisations of a Gibsonian corpus carried out by Stefania Forlini, Uta Hinrichs, Bridget Moynihan, and John Brosz) and stylistics (the computational stylometry applied to C. S. Lewis by Michael P. Oakes), or building catalographic and popular applications.

In conclusion, utopian and science-fictional speculation is confirming, in the digital world, its ability to straddle different methodological traditions, and to rediscover and make fruitful a common epistemological background that is often little visible in our contemporary system of knowledge.

Giulia Iannuzzi

University of Florence – University of Trieste

Cite this article as: Giulia Iannuzzi, "Science Fiction, Utopia, and Digital Humanities," in Geographies of Time, 14/03/2021, https://ian.hypotheses.org/1673.

This blog is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) license

A Directory of Directories

Lists and getaways of digitalised resources, with an eye on Early Modern History and green open access

Lists of lists and catalogues of catalogues, to help researchers navigate libraries and sources on the screen, especially focused on Early Modern History

> ongoing updates <

Cite this article as: Giulia Iannuzzi, "A Directory of Directories," in Geographies of Time, 21/05/2020, https://ian.hypotheses.org/1344.

This blog is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) license

Grammars of Globalisation

Podcasts and webinars to keep in contact with what’s going on in the scholarly community

Here’s a selection of recent and ongoing initiatives and virtual spaces to keep in (social-distanced) contact with current researches and what’s going on in the scholarly community.

PiMo-Globhis, Visual grammars of globalization, virtual seminar: coordinated by Giovanni Tarantino, this seminar was held the 6th of May (I will post an update should a recording be made available). This seminar showcased a series of fascinating early-modern case studies as regards visual and material cultures and globalization processes, tackled through the theoretical lens of Gerd Baumann ‘grammars of identity/alterity’.

Samuel Purchas, Purchas His Pilgrimes … (London: Printed by William Stansby …, 1625), vol. 1, title page, detail. Copy at Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library-Yale University, Digital Collections, non known restriction for scholarly use.

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Global Eyes

Ambon, Maluku Islands, detail from one of the city views on exhibit in Florence as part of ‘The Global Eye‘ (line-and-wash drawing on canvas-backed paper, attributed to Johannes Vingboons, Amsterdam 1665-68)

Two beautiful exhibits are bringing to light hidden treasures from Florence historical libraries, and tracing the circulation of geographical knowledge during the early modern era in a global perspective.

The Global Eye: Dutch, Spanish, and Portuguese Maps in the Collections of the Grand Duke Cosimo III de’ Medici at the Medicea Library – info at this link – includes a number of XVII-century maps and drawings of ports, cities, and coasts from “East and West Indies”, including the coasts of the North and South America, Africa, the Indian Ocean, the seas of South East Asia, Japan, the Strait of Malacca.

These hand-painted materials were purchased by prince Cosimo III de’ Medici (1642‐1723) during a visit to the Netherlands, between 1667 and 1668, and in Lisbon 1669. Today the exhibit and the thorough-researched catalogue allow us to get a good sense of how geographical and proto-ethnographical knowledge circulated during the early modern era, exploring Cosimo III’s networks, and the role of various cultural brokers.

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Digital History

A directory of selected digital history projects, especially focused on early modern history, with special sections devoted to toolkits for digital historians and the Enlightenment

Image credit: Thomas Tuttell, Mathematical Playing Cards, 4 of hearts, ‘Sea Quadrant’, engraving, pasteboard, 1700, detail. © The Trustees of the British Museum, under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) licence.

A directory of selected digital history projects, especially focused on early modern history, with special sections devoted to toolkits for digital historians and the Enlightenment.

> Ongoing updates <

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Digital Libraries

Image credit: Thomas Bewick, Fine Library, print, wood engraving on paper, illustrating A Collection of Pretty Poems for the Amusement of Children, 1780. © The Trustees of the British Museum, Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0).

A directory of selected digital libraries, especially focused on Early Modern History, with special sections devoted to the Early Modern North Atlantic and Cartographic and visual materials

> Ongoing updates <

Continue reading “Digital Libraries”