“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

Gutta percha: forgotten material of the communication revolution

Few other materials have had such a revolutionary impact on the world. And few others have been forgotten so quickly. (Ben Wilson, Heyday: Britain and the birth of the modern world, Weidenfeld and Nicholson, London, 2016, p. xxiii) Describing gutta percha as "the vanished material that made the telecommunication revolution possible", Ben Wilson gives it… Continue reading Gutta percha: forgotten material of the communication revolution

Alfred Holt and the Agamemnon; an information history anniversary

It is often said that a modern information environment came into being in the mid-nineteenth century. The virtually instantaneous communication of brief messages via the electric telegraph was paralleled by developments in printing technology which allowed the creation of massively increased volumes of printed materials, disseminated through newly established universal postal systems. A vital, and… Continue reading Alfred Holt and the Agamemnon; an information history anniversary

Remembering Sir Joseph: the Paxton150 conference

I attended Paxton150, a conference to mark the 150th anniversary of the death of Sir Joseph Paxton, last week. Organised by the Department of Landscape at Sheffield University, this meeting both looked back at the history of public parks, and the influence of Paxton and his followers on their development, and also examined their future,… Continue reading Remembering Sir Joseph: the Paxton150 conference

The future of the library; musing on

Musing, sometimes optimistically, more often pessimistically, about the future of libraries seems to have appeal for many thinkers in and about the profession. Charles Ammi Cutter arguably started it with his late nineteenth-century vision, in some respects remarkably prescient, of a public library one hundred years ahead. From time to time, such musings take a… Continue reading The future of the library; musing on

Senate House Library and the context of documents

“Research is concerned with discovery”, Christopher Pressler tells us in his introduction to Scala Publishing’s splendid new book on the University of London’s Senate House Library, “Libraries are the essential mode of travel.” The centrality of collections of documents in an organized space is the intellectual theme to what might (wrongly) be dismissed as a… Continue reading Senate House Library and the context of documents

Physical plus digital, but more physical than you might think

Until quite recently, the world of recorded information was physical: print-on-paper, plus the paper card ‘machinery’ well described by Marcus Krajewski’s book Paper Machines. Mechanised documentation – punched cards, edge-notched cards, and the like – added some automation, but were still very much physical objects. Then the information world became a bit digital, with computer… Continue reading Physical plus digital, but more physical than you might think

Thomas Jefferson, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and information history for the future

I gave a talk to a meeting of CILIP’s Library and Information History group, which was celebrating its 50th anniversary. It was a short and informal presentation, which – as it was US election day – had a presidential theme, and looked at some reasons why library and information history is worthwhile as a subject… Continue reading Thomas Jefferson, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and information history for the future

Knowledge, documents and a London location

As documents, and the whole information and communication environment, become increasingly digital, it is natural to assume that physical location becomes of less importance. Two newly published books remind us that this idea should be examined with a critical eye. Rosemary Ashton’s Victorian Bloomsbury, a splendidly scholarly and well-produced intellectual and cultural history of that… Continue reading Knowledge, documents and a London location

Why Norbert Wiener was plaintive, and would have hated the REF exercise

I was recently re-reading parts of Norbert Wiener's autobiography, I am a mathematician, shortly after writing a brief account of theories of information for our upcoming book Introduction to Information Science. What caught my attention was how the lives and work of the proponents of what has been come to be known as information theory… Continue reading Why Norbert Wiener was plaintive, and would have hated the REF exercise