Chronological and Thematic Database on the History of Information and Media

Coptic bookbinding From Cave Paintings to the Internet is “designed to help you follow the development of information and media, and attitudes about them, from the beginning of records to the present. Containing annotated references to discoveries, developments of a social, scientific, theoretical  or technological  nature, as well as references to physical books, documents, artifacts, art works, and to websites and other digital media, it arranges, both chronologically and thematically, selected historical examples and recent developments of the methods used to record, distribute, exchange, organize, store, and search information. The database is designed to allow you to approach the topics in a wide variety of ways.”

Illustration: coptic bookbinding.

Via Achille van den Branden.

The Wonders of Industry (1873-1877)

the wonders of industry

“Les merveilles de l’industrie, ou description des principales industries modernes”, Louis Figuier (1873-1877). The 4-volume book is in French, but the engravings are indeed wonderful: Part 1 (750 pages), Part 2 (736 pages), Part 3 (687 pages) & Part 4 (744 pages). A sample of the illustrations of part one and four can be found here and here. Below: salt mines in Wieliska, Poland (extra large illustration). Related: Three thousand pages of 19th century technology.

Grinding the Wind: the Treadwheel Fan

grinding the wind the treadwheel fanI wrote about prison treadmills before. They were invented in England in 1817 by Sir William Cubit, who observed prisoners lying around in idleness and put himself to the task of “reforming offenders by teaching them habits of industry”.

Forty-four prisons in England adopted it as a form of hard labour that could also grind grain or pump water.

Prison treadwheel 2However, as it turns out, in at least one jail prisoners were only “grinding the wind”: they were walking a treadwheel that was connected to a giant fan built on the courtyard. By this apparatus the resistance necessary for rendering the tread-wheel hard labour was obtained.

The system is explained in “The criminal prisons of London and scenes of Prison Life” (1862), written by Henry Mayhew & John Binny. Starting on page 299, they describe the method of “hard labour”, and the technologies used for it: the treadwheel, crank labour & the shot drill. Great reading.

Harnessing the Sun: the History of Solar Energy

Printing a journal by solar energy The Archdruid Report discusses some early applications of solar energy by Augustin Mouchot (late 1800s) and Frank Schuman (early 1900s). An overview of historical experiments and applications of solar energy can be found here and here.

Three Thousand Pages of 19th Century Technology

The manufacture of money The “Dictionary of arts, manufactures, and mines containing a clear exposition of their principles and practice” by Andrew Ure (and many others) is a 3,000 page illustrated encyclopedia packed with useful technical and statistical
information relating to industrial development in the nineteenth

The paper version can be yours for a mere € 1,248 (or $ 1,760, including a discount), but the Internet Archive has made the entire seventh edition (published in 1875) available for free: Volume 1 (A-C), Volume 2 (D-I), Volume 3 (J-Z). Some volumes of earlier editions can be found at Google Books.

Illustration on the left: the manufacturing of money (see “Mint”).

Related: The wonders of industry (1873-1877).

Floating Citadels, Powered by Wind and Water Mills

floating citadels

This engraving, published in 1798, shows the gigantic St. Malo raft, designed in 1791 during the French Revolution. The engraving informs us that this extraordinary structure was 600 feet long by 300 broad, mounts 500 pieces of cannon, 36 and 48-pounders, and is to convey 15,000 troops for the invasion of England. In the midst is a bomb-proof, metal-sheathed citadel.

[Read more…]

The Panorama of Professions and Trades (1837)

Panorama of professions and trades What do you want to be when you grow up? In the 19th century, this question was easier to answer than it is today. There were 87 possibilities, according to Edward Hazen, author of “The Panorama of Professions and Trades” (1837). The book was also published as “Popular Technology; Professions and Trades” in 1870, Part 1 and Part 2 – these are better scans. Every profession is explained and illustrated. Find the table of contents below. Via Doug Berch, musician and dulcimer maker.

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Optical telegraph in the Netherlands

optical telegraph in the netherlands

The communications device was located on the beach of Scheveningen in the 1700s. More on the optical telegraph: Email in the 18th century. Source: geschiedenis van de techniek in Nederland.

How Far Back?

On the appeal of steampunk:

“Compared with an earlier and more thoroughly handcrafted era, a return to the late 1800s or early 1900s does not mean having to give up all the most basic modern conveniences. Most of these, including indoor plumbing, electric lighting and even air conditioning, had been invented and put into use by this time—in the main by the privileged, but then it is their lives (and not those of common men and women) that are the stuff of historical fantasy. Travel no longer meant riding in cramped stagecoaches over dirt roads or wind-and wave-tossed sailing vessels, but in luxurious automobiles
and handsomely appointed cabins aboard trains and steamships.”

Via Clockworker.

Polynesian Stick Charts

Polynesian stick chart

“The Polynesians, scattered as they were over 1,000 islands across the central and southern Pacific Ocean, were master navigators who tracked their way over huge expanses of ocean without any of the complex mechanical aids we associate with sea fairing. They didn’t have the astrolabe or the sextant, the compass or the chronometer. They did however have aids of a sort, which though seemingly humble, were in fact the repositories of an extremely complex kind of knowledge. Called Rebbelibs, Medos. and Mattangs, today we call them simply Stick Charts.” Via Tecob. Related: Satellite navigation in the 18th century.