Friday, November 16, 2007

Eusebius,Drexel,Casaubon,Cujas,Harrison, Hooke, Locke, and Memex: Solutions to the Multitude of Books.

As long as the centuries continue to unfold, the number of books will grow continually, and one can predict that a time will come when it will be almost as difficult to learn anything from books as from the direct study of the whole universe. It will be almost as convenient to search for some bit of truth concealed in nature as it will be to find it hidden away in an immense multitude of bound volumes. —Denis Diderot, "Encyclopédie" (1755)

Ann Blair, “Reading Strategies for Coping With Information Overload ca.1550-1700”. Journal of the History of Ideas 64, January 2003.

In the preface to his massive project of cataloguing all known books in the Bibliotheca univeralis (1545) Conrad Gesner complained of that "confusing and harmful abundance of books," a problem which he called on kings and princes and the learned to solve.

Anthony Grafton, “Future Reading.” New Yorker November 5, 2007,pp. 50-54.

Noel Malcolm, "Thomas Harrison and His 'Ark of Studies' : An Episode in the Organization of Knowledge," The Seventeenth Century. October 2004.

This article identifies both the inventor (Thomas Harrison, an Anglican vicar imprisoned for a political protest in favour of Ship Money in 1638) and the invention, using a detailed description which survives in manuscript. It relates Harrison's methods to developments in the Renaissance tradition of `commonplacing' (extracting information from one's reading and arranging it under subject-headings), explaining the nature of his innovations. It also shows that an (unattributed) account of Harrison's invention was published by the German writer Vincent Placcius, and that, as a consequence, a physical example of Harrison's `Ark of Studies' was made which later came into Leibniz's possession.

Daniel. Rosenberg,“Early Modern Information Overload”. Journal of the History of Ideas 64, January 2003.

In order to write a broader history of information overload, we may need to set aside our usual tool kit of causes and effects and particularly to set aside our usual conception of continuous change in order to ask how and why a phenomenon so patently old can periodically and convincingly be re-experienced as a fundamental symptom of the new.

Richard R.Yeo, “A Solution to the Multitude of Books: Ephraim Chambers's Cyclopaedia (1728) as ‘the Best Book in the Universe.’ " Journal of the History of Ideas 64, January 2003.

Moreover, Chambers (and his later admirers) presented the Cyclopaedia as a work assembled by an individual in the manner of a good scholar or student making a private commonplace book. In this sense his work may have offered one of the last, and heroic, models of how one might travel the circle of arts and sciences without being lost, how one might find knowledge in the midst of an explosion of miscellaneous information.

Richard R.Yeo. "Before Memex: Robert Hooke, John Locke, and

Vannevar Bush on External Memory." Science in Context 20. 2007.

Whereas Bush modeled the memex on the associative processes of natural memory, Hooke and Locke concluded that an external archive had to allow collective reason to

overcome the limits of individual memory, including its tendency to freeze and repeat patterns of ideas. Moreover, they envisaged an institutional archive rather than one controlled by the interests and mental associations of an individual.