Maps contain lots of information in a condensed and abstract visual format. We trust maps to depict reality, and we trust that they are produced with scientific rigor. But as the fairly recent case of a “phantom island” in the Coral Sea shows, maps can contain false information, even in the age of satellite imagery. A historical perspective on the way geographical data was communicated in the past helps to understand how such false information got reproduced and eventually found its way from the late 18th century into Google Maps.
Do animals carry legal obligations? To the twenty-first century reader of Shells & Pebbles this question might appear to be odd. Surely, only in fables pigs are summoned to appear before a judge to be held accountable for any misdemeanour. Not quite. In past centuries, animal trials were not unheard of. In fact, one might wonder with the advent of the animal rights movement in the twentieth century, whatever happened to animal duties? A blog post on a cat in court.
Ever wondered about the picture above? It is a lithographical engraving from 1866 depicting Archaeopteryx – without the head. Initially, I thought that I saw a head there, but apparently there isn’t. You see, this was drawn only five years after the London Archaeopteryx was discovered – which (at least initially) lacked a skull. The drawing originally appeared in Louis Figuier’s The Earth before the Deluge in 1866; this one is from a Dutch translation (thrown together with a work by Oscar Fraas) by E.M. Beima, a curator from the Dutch natural history museum at Leiden. The whole illustration looks like this:
From: Edward Newman (1843), “Note on the Pterodactyle Tribe considered as Marsupial Bats”. The Zoologist 1, p. 129. Comment: “The upper figure represents Pterodactylus crassirostris, the lower, Pter. brevirostris”.
De Inchcape, of Bell Rock, een rots voor de kust van Schotland, is eeuwenlang het toneel geweest van talloze scheepsrampen. Het bij laagtij nét boven de waterspiegel uitstekende rif werd zo gevreesd door zeelieden dat zij vaak de zekerheid van een razende Noordzee en het gevaar van een stranding op de nabije kusten verkozen boven een mogelijke benadering van de Bell Rock. Gelegen op 12 mijl uit de kust wees niets op de aanwezigheid van het rif, maar sinds 1810 waarschuwt het kenmerkende rood-witte schijnsel van de Bell Rock Lighthouse voor deze rots.
In 2010 a new novel by China Miéville was published with the thrilling title Kraken. Miéville is a writer of “weird fiction” whose novels try to move fantasy from the age of Tolkien to the age of steam punk and beyond. The book is a clear example of this. The main character of Kraken is a twenty-first century curator of the British Museum of Natural History who succeeds in losing a very large specimen of the giant squid Architeuthis dux, a theft that turns out to be the resultof a war between different occult sects. Among them is a gang of squid ‘cultists’ who look upon the ‘Kraken’ as their god and who consider a nineteenth century natural historian from Denmark, Johan Japetus Steenstrup as their main apostle.
Classic dialogue in the classic movie Jurassic Park. The mathematician Ian Malcolm is rambling about the consequences of Jurassic Park and about the cloning of dinosaurs. At a certain moment he says: “God creates dinosaurs. God destroys dinosaurs. God creates man. Man destroys God. Man creates dinosaurs.” The witty palaeobotanist Ellie Sattler is quick to answer: “Dinosaurs eat man… woman inherits the world.” It is a funny word play. The womanizer and “rock star” scientist Malcolm does not respond.
Around 1900, an unprecedented panoply of anatomical fold-outs emerged and sold across Europe and North America. Examples ranged from life-size models to supplementary inserts in thick health manuals and booklet-thin charts. As illustrative devises, fold-outs responded to a growing demand for anatomical models and illustrations by a broad authorship and audience. Yet, historiography has neglected this fascinating aspect in the history of anatomy. This entry presents a kaleidoscope of examples of the multifarious genre of anatomical paper fold-outs and their usage, providing new insights into the history of nineteenth-century public anatomy.
Recently, the British Antarctic Survey’s Rothera station has welcomed new guests. A group of Dutch scientists from the universities of Utrecht and Groningen and from the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research arrived this season to do laboratory research, financially supported by the NWO, the Dutch NSF. Neither being able nor willing to construct a research site for themselves on the seventh continent, these Dutch institutions decided to piggyback. Why not stay at the compounds of their North Sea neighbours, located on Adelaide Island?
In the 1870s, after the Franco-Prussian war, the art and sciences budget of the Netherlands increased dramatically. If the Dutch ever had an Victorian age in which some dreamt of cathedrals of science, it was then. In 1872-3 nearly 1,5 million guilders (quite a lot at that time) was reserved to upgrade Leiden University and the State Museum of Natural History. The university would get a new zoological laboratory and a new main building (academiegebouw); the state museum would be able to move to a bigger building as well.Continue reading “A Dutch national museum that was never meant to be”