A Visit to the Making & Knowing Lab

By Sietske Fransen & Katie Reinhart

As the start of the respective second and third years of our research projects, the Making Visible post-docs and the Genius before Romanticism team visited the Making and Knowing project last week at Columbia University in New York. The Making and Knowing project, led by Professor Pamela Smith, has the aim to reconstruct the sixteenth-century artisanal workshop as to understand more about the practice of making and knowing in the early modern period.

Oyster ash and cuttlefish bone are just a few of the things one will find in the Making & Knowing lab
Oyster ash and cuttlefish bone are just a few of the things one will find in the Making & Knowing lab

Based around an anonymous manuscript (BNF Ms. Fr. 640) the project transcribes and translates the manuscript and then reproduces the recipes and experiments as described by the author-compiler. The final outcome of the project will be a fully annotated and translated online edition of the manuscript. To do all this, the project’s director, the project manager, and three post-docs work closely together with a large group of experts (from the digital humanities to expert makers), while the reproducing of recipes mainly happens in a learning environment. The latter means that the research group offers graduate courses to students at Columbia University in which the students work with the manuscript, and re-create the described recipes.

A drawer of imitation coral
A drawer full of imitation coral

Since the theme of our current (second) year of the project is ‘expertise’, especially how expertise could be gained by the fellows of the Royal Society, and how expertise would help and influence their visual practices, a visit to the laboratory of the Making and Knowing project has been very insightful.

Every semester, the Making and Knowing project runs a graduate seminar where students from different fields can learn about early modern artisanal practices through hands-on participation in the lab. But, like any craft process it is hard to fully grasp without doing it yourself, so we donned our lab coats and joined the class for a day. The day we were observers, the subject under investigation was making and casting from bread moulds.

Scientific laboratory or modern day cabinet of curiosities?
Scientific laboratory or modern day cabinet of curiosities?

The day began with a seminar-style discussion of assigned readings; then the students discussed the various trials and tribulations of their attempts to bake bread from early modern recipes, which they completed ahead of time at home. Students followed various recipes, but unlike modern instructions, most did not include specific amounts, times, or temperatures leaving students to follow their best judgement (or guess) on how to proceed. A few students experienced with bread baking followed their instincts, but the rest had to wrestle with recipes that assumed a high degree of tacit knowledge. After baking, the students made moulds from the bread by impressing small objects (a key, a toy, a magnet) into the warm bread. As the bread dried out, they formed the the hardened mold which will later be filled.

Bread moulds ready for casting


After lunch we headed to the lab, where, after safety instructions and donning the appropriate gear, we were ready to get casting. The Making and Knowing lab uses the early modern materials described in BNF Ms Fr. 640 (bread, beeswax, cuttlefish bone), but modern equipment (hot plates for heating; fume hoods for safety). Over the next few hours, students slowly melted down the beeswax and sulfur (in the fume hood), and created a steady surface by cutting a flat surface into their bread or securing them with clamps or sand.

Melting the beeswax
Melting the beeswax

Once ready, they poured the molten sulfur or beeswax into their moulds. The pouring needed to happen quickly enough that the substance did not begin to harden, but slow enough that it did not splash out (as happened to Katie).

Katie tries her hand at pouring sulfur into a mould
Katie tries her hand at pouring sulfur into a mould

After filling, the moulds were left to set and harden. After fully setting, the bread was removed to reveal the finished cast object. The finished objects revealed that, as promised in the manuscript, bread was a surprisingly good medium to take an impression. In our excitement, we realised that we failed to take a picture of a final object from the bread moulding experiment, but the entire process was probably more interesting and important than the final product!


The second day of our visit to the Making and Knowing team consisted of an afternoon seminar in which all present participants of the three projects, presented on their work and experiences as researchers on these collaborative and interdisciplinary projects. The discussion was wide ranging, but over the course of the afternoon several themes and key questions arose. We talked about the knowledge that could be gained only be doing – knowledge of materials and processes that the Making and Knowing team learned over the course of their recreations.

However, how do we, as historians, study and communicate our ideas about what Pamela Smith calls ‘experiential knowledge’, if words are insufficient to explain or encompass this type of knowledge? It was interesting to hear from one of the new Making and Knowing postdocs, Tianna Uchacz, that she also found gaps or tacit knowledge in the descriptions of recipes by students. She experienced this by following their essays on the making of bread to bake her own bread for the bread moulding experiment. Would there be other ways to communicate and report our experiences? Not just verbally, but also through videos, drawings, and informal forms of writing? It is clear that these new forms of historical investigation might also call for new or alternative ways of communication.

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A busy day in the Making & Knowing lab

One of the other major points discussed was the importance of failure. The importance of failure to learn and understand a process but also the reporting about failure to be able to understand and keep open the possibility of re-tracing one’s steps. Unfortunately many mistakes and failures are not written down and are therefore forgotten as essential steps in the process of knowledge creation.

Another part of the discussion centred on the value, and problems, with historical recreation. The Making and Knowing lab has gone to impressive lengths to obtain early modern materials, but they use modern heating, lighting, and laboratory equipment. Thus, how faithful can we consider the outcomes of their experiments to what might have happened in the past? This discussion resonated with us in relation to the slow start of our own intaglio project. We are using early modern engraving tools, but we are undertaking the project and learning to engrave in a very modern context. If we can’t devote the time and resources to truly becoming early modern engravers (which we can’t, we’re already historians) then is the whole endeavour pointless or can learning this skill, even in a modern way, still inform how we look on and understand the printed images we study?

Our visit to the Making and Knowing lab allowed us to reflect on and discuss these issues, and we thank Pamela Smith and all of her team for the invitation and for allowing us to join the lab for a day!

Ready for some history

An image interview with Noah Moxham

Drawing of dissection of a rattle snake, RCP MS 618, f. 6r. @ Royal College of Physicians, London
Drawing of dissection of a rattle snake, RCP MS 618, f. 6r. @ Royal College of Physicians, London

Can you tell us briefly about yourself and your background? 

Noah Moxham; historian of science/book historian (the proportion varies according to what precisely I happen to be working on). I’m a postdoc on Publishing the Philosophical Transactions: The social, cultural and economic history of a learned journal 1665-2015, an AHRC-funded project at the University of St Andrews, and I’m interested in the construction, communication and afterlife of scientific knowledge in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Which picture have you chosen, and what does it show?

These are the drawings – strictly speaking in an unknown hand, although we know for a virtual certainty that there are only four possible candidates including Tyson himself – accompanying Edward Tyson’s dissection and anatomical description of a rattlesnake from Virginia. They were made in February 1683 and shown to a meeting of the Royal Society that month, and subsequently published in the Philosophical Transactions (below is the engraving made for that purpose by Michael Burghers in Oxford).

Anatomy of a rattle snake, in Philosophical Transaction, vol. 13, nr. 144 (February 1683).
Anatomy of a rattle snake, in Philosophical Transaction, vol. 13, nr. 144 (February 1683).

Why have you chosen this image?

I like it partly for what it represents – an attempt to treat a creature with all kinds of mythic associations and which had been historically represented in fantastical ways as an anatomical subject. But at the same time the drawing isn’t purely schematic: the upside-down head with the jaws wedged open, the fangs on display, the forked tongue extended, combine – I think deliberately – into a posture of threat. I think it’s meant to open up the subject to the possibility of objective examination but to retain a hint of the dangerous and the exotic.

How does this image resonate with you in the context of your work or research?

It crops up at an important time in the history of the Royal Society, and of scientific publishing. It’s part of a series of anatomical dissections prepared by Tyson under the terms of his new appointment as Curator of Experiments at the Royal Society. He and a colleague, the chemist Frederick Slare, were to make sure between them that the Society was to be entertained with at least one chemical or anatomical demonstration per week. The Society’s reputation depended on the interest of the meetings and on the new discoveries it broadcast, or rebroadcast, to the learned world in print, and it was in a sad way on both fronts in late 1682 (largely the fault of the overworked Robert Hooke, who was doubling up as Secretary and curator of experiments, responsible for publishing a periodical, for keeping the Fellows entertained at meetings, for the Society’s record-keeping and correspondence, and still needing to earn a living on the side). But it also signals what I think is a broader effort on the part of the Society and its Fellows to promote serial or systematic work in natural history over the next several years; during that time the Society was directly involved in the production of numerous taxonomic and descriptive works on birds, fishes, British plants, insects, and ‘animals’ (mostly quadrupeds, with the odd fish, bird or cetacean thrown in).

Do you know anything about the making-process of the image? Does knowing how the image was created affect your understanding of the image?

We don’t know who drew these, but we know from Tyson’s list of the people who assisted at the dissection, all of whom were known as draughtsmen and illustrators, who the candidates are. They were Henry Hunt, Robert Hooke’s former apprentice and the Society’s Operator (in effect an all-purpose technical assistant); Richard Waller, a friend of Tyson’s and Hooke’s, the son of a painter and subsequently Secretary of the Society; and William Faithorne, a London draughtsman and engraver. In fact we know that they were all involved in producing the drawings of the snake, just not which particular drawings they were responsible for. It’s useful and important to know that this was a collaborative effort; to note Tyson’s determination to thank, and thus make public, the technical skills and assistance that were a necessary part of the process of making scientific knowledge in the early modern period; and to realise that this represents the beginning of a fairly long and productive research collaboration between Tyson and Waller in particular, working together over the next several years to produce a series of illustrated dissections – some published and some not. They worked together on the anatomies of small reptiles, insects and annelids – a green lizard, a caterpillar, and a tapeworm, among others. Their collaboration focussed especially on small creatures, some of which had only been opened up to detailed anatomical study by the advent of the microscope and which called for skilled, fiddly work in dissecting and examining.

What significance does the image have for the historical understanding of the relationship between knowledge-making and image-making?

Some of that significance is fairly specific – it comes from the fact that this was intended to be the beginning of a new, sustained and systematic research effort on the part of the Royal Society, one that it attempted to maintain by building it into the Society’s organisational structure. It’s part of a networked process; these drawings (and the anatomical preparations resulting from the dissection) were shown and discussed in meetings before being sent on to Oxford, where they were also examined by the emergent Oxford Philosophical Society. (This is why the drawing was engraved there and not in London). The relationship and the regular exchanges of drawings, objects and ideas between Oxford and London became an important part of the process of making natural knowledge in England during the 1680s.

It’s also worth noting that the engraving, in particular, marks the beginning of a significant upturn in both the frequency with which contributions to the Philosophical Transactions featured engraved illustrations and in their quality. The introduction of more, and better, illustrations is an important step in the development of scientific periodicals, from what were editorially compiled newssheets gathering letter-extracts, scraps of information and new discoveries into a credible site for researchers to advance fully-developed, self-sufficient claims to knowledge.

Do you have any additional thoughts or comments on the image you would like to share?

The object – in this case the animal – behind the drawing has a history, and one that we can trace to some extent. It was brought from North America for a Virginia Merchant (it was reported to have made the Transatlantic voyage in a basket, and gone four months without eating); it was exhibited to the Royal Society alive, and then dissected once dead. It’s not only a good example of the complexity and reach of the networks that brought objects and information to the attention of the Royal Society and organisations like it, but of the sheer haphazardness of that process. Tyson had previously dissected a porpoise brought ashore by Thames fishermen; and the Royal Society negotiated the purchase of a sick ostrich for Tyson to dissect in January 1683 (possibly one of twenty in the royal menagerie, a gift from the Moroccan ambassador to Charles II).

Copying Hevelius’s lunar template

By Nydia Pineda De Avila

Hevelius, Figura Primaria Phasium Lunarium in Selenographia, 1665 © Royal Society
Fig. 1: Hevelius, Figura Primaria Phasium Lunarium in Selenographia, 1665 © Royal Society

The word selenographia, a Latinized Greek noun derived from Selene (the moon), and graphia (from the verb graphein, to scratch, draw, write, represent, describe) was coined in the seventeenth-century to refer to textual and visual lunar description made from telescopic observations. From the 1640s, the word designates a map of the features of the satellite. In the production of these images, astronomers and artists engaged in graphical experimentation for the efficient translation of fragmentary views (it was impossible to see an image of the full moon at once through a seventeenth-century lens) into a detailed representation of the entire lunar disc. A gallery of seventeenth-century selenographies can be found here.

This image (Fig. 1) is perhaps the most abstract selenography of its time. The lunar features are not inscribed within a circle representing the limits of the disc but are floating on the blank page. The moon is not intended to look naturalistic: there is no expression of volume or tone as in the phases engraved by Claude Mellan under the direction of Pierre Gassendi and Nicholas Fabri de Peiresc or in the full moon drawn and engraved by Jean Patigny under Jean-Dominique Cassini. Here the depressions and elevations of the surface are reduced to irregular shapes engraved with a single line. A rhomboid grid marks an imaginary centre of the disc that was intended to orientate the user of the telescope. This is not a moonscape but a two-dimensional representation of the topography of the moon. Johannes Hevelius published the image in his lunar treatise, the Selenographia sive lunae descriptio, published in Gdansk in 1646.

Hevelius explains the use of this image as an astronomical instrument © Royal Society
Fig. 2: Hevelius explains the use of this image as an astronomical instrument © Royal Society

Hevelius used this template to reconstruct more detailed maps of the full moon and the forty phases that illustrate the Selenographia. The template itself, called Figura Primaria Phasium et Lunationum (called Fig. T and its variant Tt) was inserted in chapter 44 of the book; and in many cases copies of the figures were bound at the end of the volume. Hevelius explained this picture as a synthesis of observations taken across a period of four years. He presented the image as an astronomical instrument that would serve the recording of lunar eclipses, the occultation of celestial bodies, and the calculation of terrestrial longitude. The astronomer could shade or mark lines over the image to show the progress of a lunar eclipse or the places of the conjunction of a planet. The author’s intention was for his map to be transferred on to copper plates so that it could be easily reproduced and used across the world. However, the template was perhaps not as helpful as Hevelius would have liked (Fig. 2).

Hevelius, Transit of Jupiter over the moon 30 September 1671, Royal Society LBO/5/2/1 © Royal Society
Fig. 3: Hevelius, Transit of Jupiter over the moon 30 September 1671, Royal Society LBO/5/2/1 © Royal Society

Though engraving and etching was increasingly valued and practiced by amateurs throughout the seventeenth century, the reproduction of Hevelius’s template would have required not only knowledge of the craft and access to a roller press (or, these lacking, to an engraver) but also a real motivation. My survey of copies of this image in the archives of the Royal Society indicates that astronomers did not use Hevelius’s recording aid. Thus far, evidence suggests that they preferred to record lunar phenomena in tables and text rather than through illustration.

Hevelius’s correspondence and the copies of his papers do not frequently convey the results of observations through a visualisation: the earliest example of a communication accompanied by a lunar template representing the transit of Jupiter over the moon in September 1671 is found within the series now called Letter Book Original that gathers a selection of copies of autograph letters indexed by Richard Waller in 1689 (Fig. 3). This template is much smaller than the one printed in the Selenographia. The image was most likely sent with the intention of being published, for it was printed in the Philosophical Transactions to illustrate Hevelius’s communication.

Pen and ink copy of Figura Primaria. Johann Philipp Wurzelbaur, Lunar Eclipse 25 March 1689, Cl.P 8i 44 © Royal Society
Fig. 6: Pen and ink copy of Figura Primaria. Johann Philipp Wurzelbaur, Lunar Eclipse 25 March 1689, Cl.P 8i 44 © Royal Society

In the volume holding Hevelius’s correspondence with Henry Oldenburg, only three observations, all pertaining to the later part of Hevelius’s life, are illustrated with this reduced version of the Figura Primaria: two lunar eclipses of 1676 and 1682, and an occultation of Jupiter of 1686. These are also appended to tables and texts. Arguably, Hevelius also sent these papers aiming for them to be published. It seems that he used these templates not as instruments but as visualisations to communicate observations effectively to an interested yet not specialised readership (Figs 4 & 5).

Etched copy of Figura Primaria. Georg Christopher Eimmart, Lunar Eclipse observed at Nuremberg 25 March 1689, Royal Society Cl.P. 8i/ 38 © Royal Society
Fig. 7: Etched copy of Figura Primaria. Georg Christopher Eimmart, Lunar Eclipse observed at Nuremberg 25 March 1689, Royal Society Cl.P. 8i/ 38 © Royal Society

Remarkably, the lunar template is also scarce in observations sent to the Royal Society by other astronomers. Etched or pen and ink copies of Hevelius’s Figura Primaria are found in recordings of lunar eclipses taken between 1689 and 1690, which were sent by astronomers of the observatory of Nuremberg, Georg Christoph Eimmart and his collaborator Johann Philipp Wurzelbaur (Fig. 6). Notably, these astronomers also represented lunar observations with Hevelius’s template in self-published pamphlets promoting their work in Nuremberg in 1685 and in the periodical the Acta Eruditorum of 1686. Eimmart was an astronomer as well as an accomplished engraver but the fact that he was capable of making copies of Hevelius’s template does not explain why he and his friend decided to convey their results in this way (Fig. 7). I would like to understand if Eimmart and Wurzelbaur adopted Hevelius’s graphics in order to promote their work at the observatory of Nuremberg within his scientific legacy.

This example helps me continue my reflection about the purpose of lunar maps in the seventeenth century. The case of Hevelius’s Figura Primaria adds to a number of instances in which the motivation for producing maps of the moon is not purely astronomical. Thus far, I think that although the process of making selenographies is related to the desire to test technology and to further understand the topography of the satellite through observation and drawing, the publication of these images obeys the desire to promote a scientific identity.

Nydia’s own version of Hevelius’s Fig. T in drypoint and chine collé
Nydia’s own version of Hevelius’s Fig. T in drypoint and chine collé


An Image Interview with Ian Lawson

Louse from Robert Hooke, Micrographia, 1665


Can you tell us briefly about yourself and your background?

Ian Lawson, historian and philosopher of early modern science. I recently finished a PhD in the Unit for History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Sydney, about the seventeenth century natural philosopher Robert Hooke and his work with early microscopes. I am interested in his fiddly daily activities with the instruments and how they are interpreted and seen, not only in terms of the work he produced but the social position of such work. Now I’m visiting the Max Planck Institut für Wissenschaftgeschichte in Berlin, and planning out a new project about the optical instruments which became fashionable in Enlightenment Europe.

Which picture have you chosen, and what does it show? 

This is Hooke’s famous louse from his 1665 book Micrographia. Hooke drew the images for the book himself. He was an apprentice, for a while, to the portrait painter Peter Lely, and became an accomplished draftsman. The newly-founded Royal Society brought Hooke to London from Oxford for the express purpose of drawing insects, observed through a microscope, as gifts for King Charles II. The project morphed into a book, printed with the money and the blessing of the Royal Society, illustrated with 38 such pictures. This is one of the last, and folds out to the size of a small cat. It was a book which transformed things so small that no one had ever seen them before into household objects.

(There’s a video of William Poole talking about this aspect of the book and showing the page containing the flea, which gives a good impression of it’s size and heft. The book itself is on Project Gutenberg.)

Why have you chosen this image? 

It’s an impressive image considered solely as an early modern engraving, and a masterpiece of natural historical drawing (though it’s not my favourite drawing from Micrographia to look at). What grabs me about it is that it’s not a drawing of only a louse, but of Hooke as well. It’s his hair the creature is gripping, and his blood that colours the shapes in its abdomen. The picture relates the details of a louse, but it also represents, in a more abstract sense, a particular relationship that Hooke had with the world around him. In the blurb accompanying the image, he talks excitedly about keeping the louse in a jar, and starving it so when it’s let out it’ll feast on him and he can watch it swell up like a balloon.

Not everyone thought this to be an appropriate way to relate to a louse. (It is not, after all, the kind of creature that many people celebrate. Think about the creepy tenor of John Donne’s ‘The Flea’ or, later, Robbie Burns’ outrage at watching a louse keep polite company in ‘To a Louse’). Margaret Cavendish, for example, a keen natural philosopher and the Dutchess of Newcastle, wondered what beggars would think about this drawing. A better reason to examine these critters would be to show how to avoid their bites! She thought Hooke’s morbid interest was useless at best, and drawing such beguiling pictures risked distracting people from research that was genuinely socially useful.

How does this image resonate with you in the context of your work or research?

I’m interested in how new conceptions of nature and new methods of investigation became fashionable and socially popular. Why did Hooke, but not others, think it was interesting or appropriate to display a louse in this way? It’s funny now to think of this image or the microscope as controversial, but in early modern Europe it sure had it’s critics, both in popular and philosophical writing. Cavendish’s worry was, partly, the perfectly reasonable (and still current) one that educated and wealthy people could better spend their time trying to solve real problems. Considering the louse not only as a new kind of natural historical illustration but as a symbol of this disagreement makes it interesting to track the following popularity of the microscope. What did it mean that there was a fashion for them in the following century or so, and how much did their fashionability influence scientists’ opinions of the instrument?

What significance does the image have for the historical understanding of the relationship between knowledge-making and image-making?

Hooke also gave public lectures and demonstrated instruments in front of audiences, but there’s a sense in which the knowledge in Micrographia had to be a printed book. Hooke’s images, for all their naturalism, are not really of anything that he actually saw, or of anything directly visible through his lenses. He emphasises in the book that he drew pictures only after several examinations of an object, as he also lets on when he talks about watching the louse feed from him. He saw it in various shapes, positions, and more or less well-fed. His wizardry with lenses and light created only temporary glimpses at ever-changing objects, so image making was an essential part of knowledge making in that drafting, engraving, and printing also ‘fixes’ the knowledge into a stable form that can be returned to and re-examined.

What significance does this image have in the context of your field or work?

It shows, I think, what was essentially a new methodology in natural philosophy. Hooke loved that he could see through the louse to its insides. Several of his observations make this point, and he argued for his whole life that microscopes were the best method we had of discovering the ‘inner’ or ‘secret’ workings of things. To see inside objects without one, one would have to make incisions like an anatomist or dissolve things in acid or fire like an alchemist. With a microscope, he wrote, he could peek “through these delicate and pellucid teguments of the bodies of Insects” and, like a voyeur, watch Nature in action: “quietly peep in at the windows, without frighting her out of her usual byas” (Micrographia, observation 43). It’s an important and poetic moment in the history of natural scientific methodology. For one, it’s definitely in line with the fashion in Hooke’s time for viewing the world mechanistically, as if he would see the clockwork inside insects that made them tick. But it’s also vaguely democratic, in that doing so does not require a furnace or any other particularly spectacular equipment. It’s both a recognition that there’s more to be discovered about the world than is readily apparent, and that the method by which to do so is not hugely inaccessible.

An Image Interview with Katy Barrett


Map of the Philippines from the Philosophical Transactions, 1708
Map of the Philippines from the Philosophical Transactions 26, 1708

Can you tell us briefly about yourself and your background?

Dr Katy Barrett, Curator of Art at Royal Museums Greenwich. I’m a historian of art and science, coming out of a research background that’s also spread across history of collecting, anthropology, numismatics and natural history. I work on the 17th and 18th centuries, on maritime and exploration art, scientific illustration and visual culture. I’m interested, at the broadest level in how images and texts worked together, and how images were part of knowledge-making in the period. In the 21st century, I’m interested in how interdisciplinary collaboration and digital humanities allow us to conduct, discuss and disseminate ideas. I blog and tweet as Spoons on Trays.

Which picture have you chosen, and what does it show? 

My image is ‘A Map of the New Philippine Islands’ published in the Philosophical Transactions in January 1708. It was contributed along with extracts of two letters from Jesuit missionaries describing the newly ‘discovered’ islands shown in the map, how it had been constructed and an account of the indigenous inhabitants who had shared this knowledge. It shows the group of islands between what were then the Moluccos, the Old Philippines, and the Marianas, and mixes a variety of information in showing the ocean space. The plate is engraved by A. Johnston.

What strikes you about this image? Why does it interest you?

What is striking about this image is how it mixes indigenous knowledge with conventions of European mapmaking and engraving. The map is situated in relationship to the equator (or equinoctial line) running horizontally across the bottom, and the grid of degrees of latitude up each side. Longitude is mentioned in the text but not shown visually. Otherwise, however, the islands are shown based on the number of days taken to travel around the circumference or from the nearest neighbour. Their shapes and relationships, most notably are, as Father Le Gobien tells us, ‘not made by Europeans, for none have yet been upon these Islands, but by the Islanders themselves … Some of the most skilful of ’em ranged upon a Table as many little Stones as there are Islands belonging to their Country; and marked out, as well as they could, the Name of each, it’s Extent, and Distance from the others’ (Philosophical Transactions, 1708-1709, 26, p.197).

How does this image resonate with you in the context of your work or research?

This resonates for me on two levels. One is the complex mixing of different types and processes of knowledge, and the attempt to map an indigenous knowledge of ocean and island space within a European convention that was itself in development in the period. I would love to have been a fly on the wall at the meeting where this knowledge was conveyed. The other is in what is left unsaid in the process of image making. We are told that ‘the Map, thus traced out by the Indians … is here ingraved’, but so much is missing from that trail of inscription. The indigenous contributors laid out stones on a table, we’re told, but someone then had to interpret that on paper and combine it with European ideas. What was A. Johnston then given to engrave and when? We must bear in mind that one of the letters was originally written in 1697, what has happened to the image in the intervening ten years?

What significance does the image have for the historical understanding of the relationship between knowledge-making and image-making?

This helps to make us think very carefully about how we understand and explain such images. The process of making this image is fundamental to how readers of the Philosophical Transactions would then understand these New Philippine Islands as well as their inhabitants. In the making of this map, the indigenous contributors are unusually visible, discussed as part of a larger project of cultural understanding and missionary conversion. It is the, presumably European, draughtsmen and engravers who are obscured.

Do you have any additional thoughts or comments on the image you would like to share?

I’d also love to know if a copy of this map made it back to the Filipino makers!


This is the first in a series of “Interview blogs” in which we ask historians, art historians, curators, and scientists to comment on images related to the Royal Society. We are interested in the different ways the interviewees respond to (sometimes the same) images. 

Learning to see

By Sietske Fransen

Drawing of a cross-section of a worm, by Sietske
Drawing of a cross-section of a worm, by Sietske

At the age of 18 I started my undergraduate degree. I had wanted to become a gynaecologist for many years and had therefore signed up to study Medicine at the University of Nijmegen (in the Netherlands). However, about six months before the end of high school, I realised I was more interested in how things work inside bodies, and why people get ill, than in how to deal with diseases at the patient’s end. So, I changed my course to Biology at Utrecht University, to learn all about the workings of living organisms.

Drawing of a locust, by Sietske
Drawing of a locust, by Sietske

At the time, the first year of Biology was build up from the smallest to the largest systems, meaning that we started with Organic Chemistry in September and ended with Ecology at the end of our first year. And over the last four months of year one, we also had the courses Zoology I & II. In my memory (I might be wrong…) this included “practica” on every afternoon from Tuesday till Friday.

The main thing we did during those practical hours was looking at organisms and their anatomies, with the naked eye and the microscope. Dissecting all types of small animals (from lugworms to rats) was extremely informative, however, most of the specimens would come on pre-prepared microscope slides. Looking at these slides we could observe all the different types of tissues and cells in the different organisms of the animal kingdom. In other parts of our course we would be reading or hearing about them, but actually seeing things ourselves was a very important part of our education.

Drawing of a squid, by Sietske
Drawing of a squid, by Sietske

At the time, the ordeal felt like a critique of my drawing skills, but I now understand that I was not taught to draw (nor expected to draw well), but rather educated to observe and see. To be able to distinguish the different organs in a worm, a squid, and a locust, is one thing. However, the process of distinguishing different cell types under a microscope, is quite another. Hence, our long afternoons of dissecting, microscopy and drawing, were all about learning to see.

Malpighian corpuscles, drawn by Sietske
Malpighian corpuscles, drawn by Sietske

This has become all the more apparent to me since I started working on the Making Visible project. I have begun to admire even more the men who started using microscopes and telescopes in the seventeenth century and described what they saw. The things they saw through these devices had never been seen before by them or any previous philosopher. No text book would help them in the right direction, for them no lecturer who spoke about that exact object that same morning. This makes it all the more surprising then to find their names in modern biology books, such as the renal or Malpighian corpuscle (a part of the kidney), which, three hundred years after Malpighi’s first observation, I still had to draw at university.

With this blog post I am not getting to any answers or spectacular new observations, but rather to formulating questions which I would like investigate during the coming years of our project. I am wondering whether the seventeenth-century anatomists and microscopists were educated in drawing. Were those who took a medical degree at university or those Fellows of the Royal Society who could be described as ‘amateurs’, ‘liefhebbers’, or gentlemen, taught how to draw specimens? And did they need these artistic skills, or did they rather need an education in seeing and observing? And maybe the two are joined exercises?

Sperm drawn by Antoni van Leeuwenhoek, Letter to the Royal Society, 31 May 1678, EL/L1/36
Sperm drawn by Antoni van Leeuwenhoek, Letter to the Royal Society, 31 May 1678, EL/L1/36

Antoni van Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723), the Dutch microscopist and most prolific correspondent of the early Royal Society, did not go to university and specifically stated in his first letter to the Royal Society that he is not a draughtsman himself and that he therefore hired skilled people to draw his observations. However, some of his own drawings, such as this drawing of male sperm, do not come across as bad drawings, and in fact seem to demonstrate a certain degree of skill. Therefore, I am curious to understand more about the seventeenth-century notion of the skilled draughtsman. Also these draughtsmen had never seen the specimens under the microscope, but they were, at least according to Van Leeuwenhoek, better skilled in drawing. So what is the relation between observation and the registration of these observations, and how was a seventeenth-century “scientist” educated and prepared to do both?

By looking at Antoni van Leeuwenhoek, as well as Regnier de Graaf (1641-1673) and Jan Swammerdam (1637-1680), two other Dutch microscopists who corresponded with the Fellows of the Royal Society, I will investigate their skills in observation and drawing, and the way in which they report about their own skills in their letters. Hopefully this investigation will give us a better sense of the education Dutch anatomists and microscopists received in terms of drawing skills, and also which skills of observation they expected from their readers.

Figures in the Diary of Robert Hooke

Felicity Henderson, University of Exeter

Robert Hooke, the early Royal Society’s paid ‘curator of experiments’, kept a detailed diary about his daily life from 1672 to 1694 (though with a long break in the mid-1680s). The diary tells us a lot about Hooke’s working practices and especially his networks of contacts in London. It’s not just an interesting text, though – Hooke occasionally adds a figure amongst his cramped lines of prose. What might these sketches tell us about Hooke’s use of scientific images?

Hooke’s diary, or memoranda, were not meant for anyone other than himself and were primarily intended as a register of his daily activities – things he wanted to remember. Some of Hooke’s figures clearly support this aspect of the diary. But why include pictures as well as verbal descriptions? I think some of these figures show Hooke in the act of thinking things through, trying out new ideas or clarifying old ones. One of the simplest figures in the diary is this drawing of the sun as it rose on 15 June 1676.

Drawing of sun rising
Rising sun, 15 June 1676. London Metropolitan Archives CLC/495/MS01758. © London Metropolitan Archives (reproduced by permission).

The diary entry reads

saw ye sun Rise very ellipticall [figure inserted here] thus the vnder side much flatter then the vpper.’

The wording suggests that Hooke first thought of describing the rising sun as ‘ellipticall’. He then realised this didn’t fully express his observation and added the figure. However he still wasn’t happy, and added further explanation focussing on the disparity between the flatter underside and the rounded top of the sun. Possibly at this point he went back over his figure to emphasise the roundness of the upper curve, as this line is much stronger than the rest of the image. It seems that even this relatively straightforward figure forced Hooke to clarify his description of the sunrise.

Other figures represent much more complex ideas.

Drawing of Richard Reeve's glass furnace
Glassworking furnace, 30 March 1677. London Metropolitan Archives CLC/495/MS01758. © London Metropolitan Archives (reproduced by permission).

This is Richard Reeve’s contrivance for his cementing glasse plates in his furnace’. Reeve had succeeded his more famous father as a maker of optical instruments, and Hooke had previously visited him in February 1674, when he had watched Reeve

joyning glasse plates by grinding them together either by a square joynt [first figure] or by an oblique joynt thus. [second figure] or by an vndulated joynt thus [third figure]’.

Drawing of different methods of joining glass plates
Methods of joining glass, 23 February 1674. London Metropolitan Archives CLC/495/MS01758. © London Metropolitan Archives (reproduced by permission).

Hooke had commented in his diary at the time

I suppose the whole secret consists in the make & heating of the fornace and cooling it wch is neer a week in doing’.

The follow-up visit in 1677 thus represented an opportunity to understand more about Reeve’s ‘secret’ furnace design. The details of the sketch are linked with extensive explanatory notes keyed to letters indicating the different parts of the furnace. It’s interesting to see Hooke using this technique, standard in contemporary scientific images, in his diary. It gives this rough sketch an authority we might not have expected in the informal context of a personal document, and raises the question of what Hooke might have planned to do with the information preserved here. Was it intended to be passed on to Hooke’s philosophical associates?

Other figures in the diary document Hooke’s own inventions, among them the ‘Horizontall Sayles’ drawn in September 1674.

Drawing of Hooke's invention of 'horizontal sails'
Horizontal sails, 26 September 1674. London Metropolitan Archives CLC/495/MS01758. © London Metropolitan Archives (reproduced by permission).

Lacking the detailed annotation of the furnace image, this sketch accompanies a brief note:

Inuented ye Perfection of Horizontall Sayles. by a poysd & turning sayle see ye figure’.

We should read ‘Wind’ and ‘Water’ on the left-hand side as part of the figure: these are aspects of the system more clearly expressed in words than in the rather vague wavy and dashed lines that surround the sails.

These sketches attest to Hooke’s visual approach to the new philosophy, suggesting that thinking about things through graphical representation was something he did routinely, not just when he was explaining his ideas to others. Most of the figures in the diary act alongside words, although there are occasional examples where they replace them entirely (as, for example, tiny drawings of spectacles – quicker than writing out the word in full!). In the context of the diary, the relationship between figures and time is also significant. The diary figures are pinned to a specific date, locating them in time in a way that might have aided in any future priority disputes. But equally, Hooke was clearly not drawing them at the point of observation, discussion or invention. He wrote his diary entries after the event, and therefore the figures must represent some further thought, rather than being an immediate record (just as diary text is always composed after the fact); so we need to see these images as having been influenced by the passage of time.

These are just a few of the figures in Hooke’s diary, but they help us to see how he approached the problem of describing and recording observations and inventions in a private context.


Reflections on the first Making Visible Workshop

By Sietske Fransen and Katie Reinhart

On June 17 & 18 the Making Visible project organised its first project workshop. Coming towards the end of the first year of our project, it has been especially useful for us (the postdocs on the team) to summarise our work so far and to see where we stand in relation to the major project questions. To be able to answer questions about the use of scientific images in the early Royal Society (1660-1710) we are inventorizing the visual material in the Royal Society’s manuscript and printed sources, by entering all our findings into a database. This database will be used both to support our ongoing research and to make this material publicly available through the Royal Society’s Picture Library.

There were many great discussions both in and out of the formal panels
Enjoying informal discussions

To fill a database with visual material seems more straightforward than it turns out to be, mainly because of questions of classification. What do we call an image and how do we organise them are therefore not only questions on a pragmatic level – in relation to our database – rather they make us wonder how scientific images functioned on a larger scale in the seventeenth century. And exactly for that reason we invited speakers who work on Royal Society materials, and/or similar archives containing early modern materials in other parts of Europe. Around the themes of taxonomy, translatability, and intelligibility of scientific images we discussed early modern uses of images, as well as contemporary strategies for cataloguing and understanding these sources.

Discussing the diverse role of scientific images
Discussing the diverse role of scientific images

The workshop was successful thanks to the wonderful papers by all of the speakers and the discussions that occurred both formally and informally. Getting our heads out of the archival material and talking to so many scholars who are also working with scientific images was probably the most exciting part of the workshop for us. Even though we have the luxury of a five-headed team to discuss our findings and problems on a very regular basis, the fruitfulness of talking to scholars outside our team has once more become very clear. One benefit is the potential for direct collaborations, for example with the German equivalent to the Royal Society, the Leopoldina. Both Wolfgang Eckart and Heinz Schott gave papers about the use of images in the Miscellanea curiosa medico-physica Academiae Naturae Curiosorum (the journal of the Leopoldina) which provided us with rich material for future comparison between this journal and the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society.

The conversation continued out of the sessions
The conversation continued out of the sessions

Stephanie Moser made us think about the classification of images, and she showed how the field of archeology has been dealing with these issues recently. In his talk about images of Palmyra, Scott Mandelbrote questioned the sometimes grey-line between language and image, imaginative languages, and the role of visualisations in the transmission of information. What has also become very clear from the many talks is the amount of material that is somehow related to the Royal Society, but today kept somewhere else. Think about the collection once owned by the Dutch physician, traveller and Fellow of the Royal Society Nicolaes Witsen: his archive is now spread out over the world, but contains some important material that can tell us more about the function of images in the transmission of knowledge as discovered in previously unknown parts of the world. Another much larger collection is that of Sir Hans Sloane. We already spent a day at the British Library and British Museum several months ago to explore the vast amount of material related to the Royal Society that is part of the Sloane collections. However, the talks by Felicity Roberts and Kim Sloan, but also those by Eric Jorink, Floriana Giallombardo and Noah Moxham showed once more that we will need to connect to other institutions to get an even better sense of the activities of the Royal Society in the seventeenth century.

Summing up the workshop with a roundtable discussion
The closing roundtable discussion

Fortunately we have several more years of funding left on our project, and once we have finished cataloguing all the Royal Society materials we will continue our research in other places in London and abroad. And since one of our project questions addresses what was the influence of the Fellows’ lives outside the Royal Society on their activities within the Society, we look forward to continuing our conversations with scholars of science and art who work on late seventeenth-century material.



An Intaglio Introduction

By Katie Reinhart

As my archaic dagger gets stuck, then skips along the piece of shiny copper, I wonder ‘how is this helping me as a historian?’

An engraving burin with a piece of copper
An engraving burin with a piece of copper

The sharp object in my hand is a burin, a carving tool used for copper plate engraving. At the moment I am trying my hand (unsuccessfully) at the technique of intaglio engraving, an early modern printing method.

Intaglio printing (which includes the techniques of engraving and etching) refers to the technique where the line incised into the plate (either with burin, dry point needle, or acid) is what will eventually appear dark when the plate is printed. This is in contrast to relief printing (like woodcuts) where what you carve away are actually the spaces that remain blank or un-inked during printing. All three of these techniques were used in the 17th century, although engraving and etching were most commonly used in the images created for the Royal Society’s publications like the Philosophical Transactions and Robert Hooke’s Micrographia.

An example of intaglio printing in Robert Hooke's Micrographia, 1665
An example of intaglio printing in Robert Hooke’s Micrographia, 1665

Thus, my colleague Sietske and I are attempting to learn the technique of engraving in hopes that it will help us further understand the relationship between graphic skill and image creation. 

@British Museum
Albrecht Dürer’s Rhinoceros is a famous example of a woodcut, 1515, @British Museum

Our ‘intaglio project’ is in its early days, and over the next several months we will post here about how we are progressing and our reflections on what we have learned in the process. So far, we have started at the very beginning. How to hold a burin, how to apply pressure to incise the copper, and how to clip off the curly ‘spur’ created if you do it all correctly.

Making Visible Postdoc Sietske Fransen tries her hand with the burin
Making Visible Postdoc Sietske Fransen tries her hand with the burin

Here are a few things I learned so far:

  • Engraving is difficult. I knew this, but like any skill one takes a go at, I have a new appreciation for the long training and apprenticeships necessary to learn to deploy such a craft, let alone with a high degree of finesse or skill.
  • Engraving is a completely different skill than drawing. The fine lines of engraved images almost make us think they were drawn with a pen, when in fact engraving is really a form of carving. The burin is not held like a pencil or quill with the fingers, but instead is grasped in the palm of the hand and driven along the plate. Instead of moving your wrist to make curves (as you would in painting or drawing) the burin always moves forward in a straight line and it is the plate that is moved to create a curved line.

    The challenging task of holding the burin
    The challenging task of holding the burin
  • Engraving is a complicated and multi-step process. I have also developed a new appreciation for the numerous steps involved in preparing a plate, engraving, cleaning, inking, and printing before a finished image is produced. With the burin and engraver carves lines that, after many more steps, are filled with ink and ultimately create the marks on the page. However, there are many more steps between wielding your burin and the final printed imaged. For instance, since engraving is a form of carving, you have to recon with the material carved away. In the case of burin engraving, this manifests as a thing curly copper ‘spur’ at the end of every line you engrave. These spurs need to be gently clipped off from the plate’s surface to get them out of your way, but also so they do not impact the shape of the line when the plate is printed.

    Copper Spurs
    Copper Spurs

Thus far my dilettante attempts at this 17th-century technique have yielded little more than a few scratched lines on a plate. I am working on making my lines consistent, and regulating pressure to varying their thickness, before I move onto the next challenge – curved lines. Check back here in the coming months as Sietske and I will be documenting the trials and tribulations of our intaglio project, as well as how it is making us reflect upon and think differently about the images that we study and the processes involved in making them.


Further reading:

David Landau and Peter Parshall, The Renaissance Print: 1470-1550 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994).

Pamela Smith and Tonny Beentjes, “Nature and Art, Making and Knowing: Reconstructing Sixteenth-Century Life-Casting Techniques,” Renaissance Quarterly 63, 1, (2010), pp.128-179.

Ad Stijnman, Engraving and Etching 1400-2000. A History of the Development of Manual Intaglio Printmaking Processes (Amsterdam: HES & De Graaf, 2012).



Richard Waller’s ‘Limned Plants’

By Sachiko Kusukawa

Watercolour study of knapweed and cornflower by Richard Waller (d. 1715). © Royal Society Archives, MS/131/40
Watercolour study of knapweed and cornflower by Richard Waller (d. 1715). © Royal Society Archives, MS/131/40

This drawing shows two plants common in England, the knapweed (Centaurea nigra) and the cornflower (Centaurea cyanus). Each plant is shown in two parts, one showing the root with the stem and leaves, and the other showing the remainder of the plant with leaves and flowers. This was a well-known convention to show plants whose full features didn’t quite fit the space available. It also allowed the pith to be shown through an oblique cut at both ends.

Richard Waller, Watercolour study (detail).
Richard Waller, Watercolour study (detail).

At the top in the middle is a pistil in two sizes: one likely the actual size, and the other, enlarged with a microscope. Reproductive organs of plants had been studied since Andrea Cesalpino (1519-1603), and viewed as key to morphological classification by fellows of the Royal Society such as John Ray (1627-1705). Showing actual and microscopic views was a convention popularized in Robert Hooke’s (1635-1703) Micrographia (1665 – see for example the actual and enlarged full stop).


Richard Waller, cross-section on Watercolour study of knapweed and cornflower (detail)
Richard Waller, cross-section on Watercolour study of knapweed and cornflower (detail)

At the bottom centre is a microscopic view of a cross section of the stem. Such anatomical structures of plants were of interest to Fellows such as Nehemiah Grew, Francis Willughby and John Ray who wanted to understand the motion of sap in plants.


The inscriptions at the top identify the plants by reference to printed books. ‘Iacea nigra Ger: Nigra vulg. Park. Knap=weed or Matfellon’ means that the plant was called ‘Iacea nigra’ in John Gerard’s Herbal (1597, p. 588) and ‘Iacea nigra vulgaris’ in John Parkinson’s Theatrum botanicum (1640, p. 468), which Parkinson also identified as ‘our common matfellon or knapweede’. ‘Cyanus I.B. Cyanus Minor Vulg. Ger. Park. Blew=bottle’ meant that it was the plant identified as ‘Cyanus’ in Jean Bauhin’s Historia Plantarum Universalis (1650-51) and ‘Cyanus minor vulgaris’ by both Gerard and Parkinson.

Richard Waller, inscription on Watercolour study of knapweed and cornflower (detail)
Richard Waller, inscription on Watercolour study of knapweed and cornflower (detail)

The numbering of these plants as ‘46’ and ‘47’ implies that this sheet was part of a series, which it indeed was. The books cited were standard herbals available in Europe and in England. Because the same plant could be known under different names in this period, it was usual to cite multiple authorities. This also ensured that one did not claim a new discovery in vain.

This watercolour is signed ‘Ric: Waller pinx[it]– Richard Waller painted [this]’. Richard Waller (d. 1715) was elected fellow of the Royal Society in 1681, and served as its Secretary (1687-1709, 1710 -1714).

Richard Waller, signature on Watercolour study (detail)
Richard Waller, signature on Watercolour study (detail)

He was among a handful of Fellows of the Royal Society who were graphically proficient. He most likely learnt to paint from his mother Mrs Mary Moore (1633-1716), whose painting of ‘Thomas More’ (or rather a painting after Holbein’s Thomas Cromwell) was donated to the Bodleian Library by Robert Whitehall in 1674. At the meeting of the Royal Society on 11 June 1713 (Royal Society Archives, Journal Book Original, vol. 11), it was reported that Waller had  ‘shown several Draughts of Grasses and some other common wild Plants, which he had drawn in Water Colours by the life, of the natural size: In the Grasses one part, viz. as much as belonged to the Production of one Grain or seed was represented as seen by the microscope’. The ‘natural size’ and the microscopic views of the reproductive parts confirm that this drawing must belong to this group of watercolours shown to the Society. It is likely that Waller had been working on these since 1689, when Hooke recorded in his diary seeing his ‘limned plants’. The drawings were shown to the Royal Society in November 1691 (Royal Society Archives, Journal Book Original, vol. 9), and judged ‘to be drawn with the utmost degree of curiosity’. Curiosity here carries the period sense of studious attention to details, and ‘limning’ – originally the technique of creating miniature portraits – was a fitting method by which to express details, as can be seen here particularly in the flower heads of the knapweed with the use of subtly different colours. It may appear odd that a Fellow of the Royal Society in late seventeenth century would bother to draw common plants found in England rather than seek out the exotic or rare species. Waller appears to have been inspired by John Ray’s morphological classification of plants (by seed leaves, flowering/non-flowering plants, reproductive organs) in the latter’s Historia plantarum (1686-1688). Waller thought that a pictorial scheme following Ray’s classification could enable ‘a man unskillfull in Botanicks … to know the name of any of these plants growing in England’ (Royal Society Archives, Journal Book Copy, vol. 8). A systematic classification of plants required information on the exotic as well as the common, and while Waller was conversant with the standard European works on plants at the time, he was also interested in enabling those in England with no botanical training to identify the plants that grew around them.

This drawing is a beautiful example of how ‘limning’ with a fine brush and subtle colours expressed morphological, anatomical and microscopic details that interested Fellows of the Royal Society at the time. Placing the plant among known, standard works of the period ensured that its identification was reliable, and the drawing could then be used further for the purposes of classification or edification. But we still know too little about the role of graphic techniques and training in historical observational practices at the early Royal Society.

Further Reading

Waller’s ‘limning’ of fossils have been rediscovered recently alongside Hooke’s drawings, S. Kusukawa, ‘The Fossil Drawings by Robert Hooke and Richard Waller‘, Notes and Records of the Royal Society, 67 (2013), 123-38.

The extent to which the extant drawings formed part of Waller’s pictorial table is pursued in L.R. Griffing, ‘Who invented the dichotomous key? Richard Waller’s watercolors of the herbs of Britain‘, American Journal of Botany 98-12 (2011).

Waller became a close friend of Hooke’s, whose biography he composed, see N. Moxham, ‘An experimental “Life” for an experimental life: Richard Waller’s biography of Robert Hooke (1705)’, British Journal for the History of Science (2016).

For Mary Moore’s tract on women’s rights, see Frances Teague and Margaret J. M. Ezell, Educating English daughters: late seventeenth-century debates (Toronto and Tempe, AZ: Iter and MRTS, 2016).

For Waller’s attempt to stabilize colour terminology to render more reliable descriptions of flora and fauna, see Sachiko Kusukawa, ‘Richard Waller’s Colour Chart (1686)’, in Colour histories. Science, art, and technology in the 17th and 18th centuries, ed. by M. Bushart and F. Steinle (Berlin: W. de Gruyter, 2015).