Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Notes on the frontispiece as graphical navigational interface

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In addition to providing some of the most striking images of the early modern period, frontispieces brought new functionality to the printed book.  The frontispiece of Swammerdam’s Tractus Physico functions as a graphical interface that gives the reader another kind of access into the material of the book.  This navigational device reflects the interests of an emerging group of readers–the early modern natural philosopher–and the need for their reading environment to respond to the particular needs of this group of readers.  The need for objective representation, familiarization with new and, to many readers, strange apparati, and careful representation of physically executed processes provide the impetus for a visualization of the experiment that the tract describes. (On the importance of experimental apparatus and the need for accurate representation to audiences unfamiliar with the apparatus, see Shapin and Schaffer).  It also represents a way into the text that is organized around the logic of the type of material the book contains: i.e. the steps and stages of the experiment.

The reference on the frontispiece to page 40 (at the base of the receiver, to which is attached the pump piston) sends the reader to the corresponding point in the experiment where one finds a more detailed description of a diagram on the facing page, using alpha-labels to correlate the discussion to the diagram.

Similarly, the reference to page 55 (on the surface of the plinth, just above the snails) points to a description with a corresponding, detailed diagram with alpha-labels.

Other features of navigation:

This little book (duodecimo?) of less than 140 pages is fully equipped for referencing. Each of the seventeen short chapters (broken into three sections, numbered from “one” in each) also has numbered sections which enable an internal referencing mechanism, as exemplified on page 27 at the start of §.9, which refers to §.2 and §.4. References within the text to other parts of the text are by paragraph, chapter, and page. At the end of the book there is an outline of each chapter (“Syllabus”) that lists topics and points to the page number where they occur. The errata list, in contrast, refers to page and line.   

The frontispiece has not traditionally been ornamental and symbolic, rather functional, and there is something of this tradition represented here.  Some points worth noting:
$          The apparatus merges with the ornamental frame [what is the precise term?].
$          The penes of the two snails intertwine as they look at the date of publication.
The page reference below the snails is to a section (ch. IV §.3) where Swammerdam introduces a discussion of the reproduction of snails which, he discovered, are hermaphrodite.


“Illustrations and their meaning.” Swammerdam’s Science (Webpage)

Shapin, Steven and Simon Schaffer, Leviathan and the Air-Pump. Princeton UP, 1985. Esp. chs. 2 and 6.
Swammerdam, Jan.  Johannis Swammerdamī ... Tractatus Physico-Anatomico-Medicus De Respiratione Usuque Pulmonum: In Quo, Praeter Primam Respirationis in Foetu Inchoationem, Aëris Per Circulum Propulsio Statuminatur, Attractio Exploditur; Experimentaque Ad Explicandum Sanguinis in Corde Tam Auctum Quam Diminutum Motum in Medium Producuntur. Lugduni Batavorum: Apud Danielem, Abraham, & Adrian. à Gaasbeeck, 1667. 

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