Sunday, November 27, 2011

Original manuscript of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" (19th Century)

The British Library best loved treasure: original manuscript version of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll. Lewis carroll was the “pen-name” of Charles Dogdson, Oxford Mathematician mainly specialized on algebra, geometry, and social applications (see Dogdson method for democracy elections) with brilliant works and models related to cryptography. He also developed an intense activity on the fields of photography and literature. There’s a complete bio on Wikipedia link (here), so again I’ll not extend about his life details… my big surprise arrived when I discovered how Lewis Carroll started this tale: he simply improvised the story one summer's day in 1862 giving a boat trip to Alice and Edith Liddell, the young daughters of the Dean of his college. The ten-year-old Alice was so entranced that she begged him to write it down for her, and he did it. Alice Pleasance Liddell finally received the manuscript on her next birthday, with around 90 pages including 37 illustrations.

The real Alice (Alice Liddell), photo by Charles Dogdson

After this, Mr. Dogdson decided to publish the tale, and from this point the history is well known. He completed the sequel with “Through the Looking-Glass”, and also wrote the poems "The Hunting of the Snark" and "Jabberwocky".

...she went on growing and growing and very soon had to kneel down...
The delicious legal discussion with the Queen...
Alice with the white -splendidly dressed- rabbit
In front of the door... what to do?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

"The Emperor’s Astronomy" (16th Century)

The “Emperor’s Astronomy” (Petrus Apianus, 1495-1552) is one of the great masterpieces of sixteenth-century printing, and also one of the top-ten in my personal digital collection. I found the codex a couple of months ago, when I was looking for volvelles (or wheel chart, which is a paper slide chart with rotating parts used mainly in ancient astronomy treatises, introduced by Persian astronomer Abu Rayhan Biruni).
I’ll not extend on Petrus Apianus BIO, Wikipedia has a relatively detailed article here. As remarkable fact, Apianus became a favourite scientific of Emperor Charles V through his work and produced also some well known treatises like the “Cosmographicus liber” and other works with variations and studys of Pascal’s triangle, collections of volvelles, and the first known depiction of Bedouin constellation.
Regarding the “Emperor’s Astronomy”... Most of the Volvelles in the codex are used –based on Ptolemaic system- to provide a remarkably accurate graphical calculation of a planet’s position. There is even one for calculating the longitude of Mercury, which contains nine printed parts plus a complex hidden infrastructure to allow movement around four separate axes. Throughout the initial part of his book, Apianus gives detailed instructions for the operation of the volvelles, using as his examples the birth dates of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and  his brother Ferdinand I, the dedicatees. But the most curious volvelle is used… for finding the hour of conception from the time of birth and the phase of the moon!!
The second part of the Astronomicum Caesareum deals primarily with lunar eclipses and five comets observed by Apianus in the 1530s. One of them is the one now known as Halley’s Comet. There are 93 known survived copies of this treatise around the world. In 1985 a copy of the Astronomicum Caesareum was auctioned for 80,000 dollars.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The various and ingenious machines of Captain Agostino Ramelli (16th Century)

Agostino Ramelli was an Italian engineer who significantly contributed to water wheels, mills (for grain and others), cranes, and jacking devices development during 16th century. His treatise “Le diverse et artificiose machine del Capitano Agostino Ramelli” -The various and ingenious machines of Captain Agostino Ramelli- had a great impact in the field of mechanical engineering. About his BIO, he served in the Army of Giacomo de Medici where he took contact with engineering disciplines. After a couple of years he realized about mathematics and geometry as an important tool for engineers and artists, and started his career as inventor.

Captain Agostino Ramelli

Wikipedia has a very poor (¿?) article here about Agostino Ramelli, with a curious reference as a world wide web precursor due to his invention called “book wheel” or “reading wheel” which is basically a device designed to allow one person to read a variety of books in one location, simply turning a huge vertical or horizontal wheel where the books are located.
This treatise is a fine example of the exquisite work of sixteenth-century printers and engravers. Printed in folio format, thus allowing great detail to be placed in the numerous engraved plates, which a total of 195. Another particularity is the fact that was printed in French and Italian.

The... world wide web service precursor? Why don't we ask Mr. Berners-Lee's opinion?

Grain mill

Heavy duty crane example

Military application (deffense breaking)

Self explained... Ramelli has more than 5 different types of screw jack devices in his treatise

Water wheel (human action)

Water wheel (water action)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

19th Century "Trattato di fortificazione e d'artiglieria" (Military Architecture and Artillery treatise)

Another military art jewel, a 19th century rare manuscript about fortifications, bastions and citadels architecture with a treatise about artillery and ballistics, all in one. Written in Italian with elegant calligraphy, has around 30 detailed full page illustrations and starts with an introduction of geometrics (basics rules to erect pentagons, hexagons, heptagons, etc that are used later to design fortifications, most of them by the sea or close to rivers). This manuscript has extraordinary similarities to the other military architecture treatise I posted last October (by Spanish Captain Cristobal de Rojas), named Theory and Practice of Fortifications.

Unfortunately, don’t have author’s name. I’ll update this post if my investigation goes further. I recommend a complete an amazing web page about classical military architecture (forts, arms & armour…): 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

15th Century Medicine treatise (or the importance of urine)

Urine sample color inspection
This manuscript from 15th century is a compilation about medicine texts.

It has a complete collection about urine characteristics in order to diagnose human diseases, an authentic “medieval urine analysis guideline”. This parameter was one of the most important medical indicator for centuries, as human body was considered sacred for main religions and open surgery was not allowed. There’s a very nice chapter in Noah Gordon best-seller “The Physician” in which Avicena (Abu Ali at Husain Ibn Abdullah Ibn Sina) explains urine importance during a medicine class at the Madraza in Isfahan.
Second extraordinary characteristic for this manuscript is the fact that contains a collection of detailed “wound man” illustrations. This kind of representations, first appeared in European surgical texts during middle ages, laid out schematically the various wounds a warrior or knight might suffer during battles, with accompanying texts stating treatments for the various different injuries.
MaOther examples of “wound man” medical manuscripts are “Fasciculus Medicinae” by Johannes of Ketham (Venice, 1492) and “Fieldbook of wound surgery” by Hans von Gersdorff (Strasbourg in 1519). See some examples (wikipedia) here.