Remembering Mr. Kemp: Gardening in a ‘book-making age’

I have a long-standing interest in the Victorian information environment, which is many ways still influences our own. In particular, I have been fascinated by how information-rich was the world of botany, horticulture and the design of parks and gardens in that period. Several of the leading garden designers were also prolific authors and editors,… Continue reading Remembering Mr. Kemp: Gardening in a ‘book-making age’

Everything old is new again

While reading the fifth, and latest, volume of Peter Ackroyd's splendid history of England, which deals with the Victorian age, I was struck by the extent to which the atmosphere of the late nineteenth-century nation, which Ackroyd captures so evocatively, mirrors our own troubled and anxious times. Whether or not the study of history allows… Continue reading Everything old is new again

“For its own sake and for his own personal joy”: Leonardo’s unpublished notebooks

Leonardo da Vinci is known for many things, but being a case study of one style of information behaviour is not usually among them. However, among the many other aspects of his life covered in Walter Isaacson's best-selling biography, this emerges clearly, particularly from a consideration of his voluminous production of notes and lists, many… Continue reading “For its own sake and for his own personal joy”: Leonardo’s unpublished notebooks

Byrhtferth’s diagram: microcosm and macrocosm

Among the many wonderful things on display at the recent Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition at the British Library was the intriguing image known as Byrhtferth's diagram. The version of the diagram on display was from the British Library's own manuscript collection (Harley MS3667). Although stunning, it is somewhat incomplete: St John's College, Oxford, has a slightly… Continue reading Byrhtferth’s diagram: microcosm and macrocosm

Physicist as librarian; Henri Poincaré’s intriguing metaphor

Among the new additions to Oxford University Press's admirable series of Very Short Introductions is a revised edition of J.L. Heilbron's VSI to the History of Physics. An interesting read in general, it raises one intriguing idea in particular; the metaphor of physicist as librarian. Libraries and documents feature throughout the book. Heilbron notes that… Continue reading Physicist as librarian; Henri Poincaré’s intriguing metaphor

In praise of speculative (or even science) fiction

I have always liked science fiction. This is not something that serious people usually want to admit to, though the perception that the genre is fit only for nerdy adolescents has diminished over recent years. There has been a growing, if somewhat reluctant, acceptance that the more thoughtful end of science fiction can be valuable… Continue reading In praise of speculative (or even science) fiction

Chemistry and its (information) history

It has often been said that chemistry was, and to an extent may still be, the most information-intensive of the sciences; see, for example, the article by Lyn Robinson and myself on chemical information literacy. This status is now challenged by molecular biology, with its 'Central Dogma' stating that information flows from DNA to RNA… Continue reading Chemistry and its (information) history

“The summary of the universe”: thoughts on Venice in the words of Peter Ackroyd

I visited Venice for the first time recently, and wanted to set down some impressions: partly on the nature of the city itself, partly on its history of collections, archives, printing, and recording knowledge. However, I found that these ideas were expressed more evocatively than I could ever manage by Peter Ackroyd in his 'Venice:… Continue reading “The summary of the universe”: thoughts on Venice in the words of Peter Ackroyd

Two encyclopaedias: both alike in dignity?

A recent article, originally appearing on an Australian radio website and widely republished, celebrated the 16th anniversary of Wikipedia, suggested that traditional encyclopaedias were now worthless, as Wikipedia completed the process of organising knowledge begun by the Romans. Well, up to a point. Wikipedia, however widely used it may be, is not the only online… Continue reading Two encyclopaedias: both alike in dignity?