Knowing the Earth, Then and Now

Orbit Pavilion is on view on the Celebration Lawn (across from the Celebration Garden) through Feb. 27, 2017. Photo by Kate Lain.

We denizens of the 21st century have numerous ways to learn about our planet: seismographs, submersibles, and airborne snow observatories cover every continent. Some of the most remote Earth science instruments are the satellites that circle our globe to gather data about droughts, hurricanes, and tectonic shifts. NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Orbit Pavilion, currently on display at The Huntington, brings these far-away vessels back to Earth, but with a twist.

After wending our way into the shell-shaped structure, we are immersed in the sounds of a wave crashing, a frog croaking, and wind tangling with tree branches—each of which corresponds to the mission of one of NASA’s 19 Earth science satellites. While wrapped in the Orbit Pavilion’s aluminum-and-steel frame, we rediscover the world not with our eyes but with our ears.

In 1851, spaceships were mere fantasies and our delicate blue dot couldn’t be captured in a photograph. But John Wyld, a prolific map publisher and honorary geographer to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, wanted to give people the world—and demonstrate how much the British Empire knew about it. As London prepared for the Great Exhibition of the same year, Wyld constructed a “Colossal Globe” right in the middle of Leicester Square. This 60-foot orb stood in that very spot for 10 years. Gawkers did not admire the Alps or the Indian Ocean by gazing up at the monument. Instead, they were encouraged to journey inside to the center of the Earth and see how Wyld had turned its outsides in.

Image of John Wyld’s globe from Illustrated London News, vol. 18, Jan.–June, 1851; June 7, 1851, page 511. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Visitors entered the globe from a small opening in the Pacific Ocean. From there, they could choose to marvel at the world’s physical geography from four loggias. An image from an 1851 issue of the Illustrated London News—held in The Huntington’s collections—shows visitors climbing four interlocking staircases to view the globe’s enormous relief map. The highest peak of the Himalayas was a mere 1.5 inches tall, and the United States was 23.3 feet wide. Volcanoes and snow-capped mountains rose and fell; deserts and craters appeared as deep depressions on the map’s surface. All this topography was rendered in plaster, paint, wood, cotton wool, and small white crystals.

Victorians were curious about the natural world. Alongside progress reports about the building of Wyld’s globe, fashionable periodicals updated readers about new demonstrations that made the rotation of the Earth visible. They devoted precious column space to the minutes of The Royal Institution, the nation’s premier organization for public engagement with science. And many periodicals ran lavish advertisements for telescopes, microscopes, and chemistry textbooks. Literate women and men had grown so familiar with contemporary scientific research that Punch, London’s satirical magazine, could joke about competing theories concerning the composition of the Earth’s inner core: “Mr. Wyld has made a grand discovery. He has satisfactorily proved that the interior of the globe is not filled with gases, according to Agassiz; or with fire, according to Burnet; neither has he filled it, like Fourier, with water. No, Mr. Wyld has now shown us that the interior of the globe is occupied by immense strata of staircases.”

Illustration of John Wyld’s globe under construction from Illustrated London News, vol. 18, Jan–June, 1851; March 22, 1851, page 234. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Despite these controversies, Victorian geologists understood that the Earth was millions of years old. They knew that layers of rock and soil were the residue of different epochs. And they were beginning to learn that many creatures had come, gone, and evolved as the Earth aged.

Still, there was more to discover. No one had stepped foot on Antarctica. Few could have pictured that oxygen, silicon, aluminum, iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and sodium comprised the Earth’s crust. And artificial satellites were a century away.

If Wyld’s globe gave Victorians a static world, frozen in time, NASA/JPL’s Orbit Pavilion helps us consider its changes in the here and now. As we ring in the New Year, this sounding nautilus provides us with an unusual opportunity to reflect on our planet—to hear its diverse wonders, and to consider how we learn about our home, now and in the years to come.

Related content on Verso:
Hearing NASA’s Earth Science Satellites (Nov. 15, 2016)

Melissa Lo is Dibner Assistant Curator of Science, Medicine, and Technology at The Huntington.

Some of Our Favorite Things

A collage of some of our Verso favorites from 2016.

As 2016 winds to a close, we invite you to take another look at a dozen stories plucked from the more than 80 we’ve published this past year on Verso.

We start off with a meditation on the symbolism of medieval lists by Martha Rust, a 2015–16 National Endowment for the Humanities fellow at The Huntington, accompanied by exquisite images from a Book of Hours in our collections. Read “Symbolism in Medieval Lists.”

One of our most popular posts marked the 10th anniversary of the death of science-fiction novelist Octavia E. Butler, whose papers reside here. We announced a project called “Radio Imagination,” sponsored by Clockshop, a Los Angeles–based arts organization that partnered with The Huntington and other local institutions to provide a yearlong series of events celebrating Butler’s life and work. Read “Celebrating Octavia Butler.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration used this hand-colored lithograph—Abandonment of the whalers in the Arctic Ocean Sept. 1871—to announce a major archaeological discovery. To learn more, read “A Whale of a Discovery.” The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

We were pleased to report that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration used a Huntington lithograph of ships trapped in ice to publicize a major archaeological discovery—the hulls of two out of 33 American whaling vessels that had sunk in the Arctic Ocean in the late 19th century. Read “A Whale of a Discovery.”

We told you about students from one of The Huntington’s partner schools, Esteban E. Torres High School in East Los Angeles. Students from their Engineering and Technology Academy enjoyed a class taught by Manan Arya, a Ph.D. candidate in aerospace engineering at Caltech, who helped them understand the scientific principles behind origami. Read “Into the Fold.”

In light of the drought in California, we provided you with a list of 10 water-wise plants to grow at home, selected by Scott Kleinrock, The Huntington’s landscape design and planning coordinator. He helped design the Frances and Sidney Brody California Garden. Read “Top-10 Water-Wise Plants.”

You can read about drought-tolerant plants, such as this beautiful Salvia clevelandii ‘Winnifred Gilman’, in “Top-10 Water-Wise Plants.” Photo by Kate Lain.

We shared stunning views of the newly installed permanent exhibition of Greene & Greene architecture and design in the Dorothy Collis Brown Wing of the Scott Galleries. Read “Greene & Greene in Context.”

Criss Cross Spelling Slips, a Victorian-era entertainment, served as the subject of a playful video that we posted. To provide context, we also included a Q&A with David Mihaly, The Huntington’s Jay T. Last Curator of Graphic Arts and Social History. Read “LOOK>> Spelling Slips.”

Chelsea Ngoc-Khuyen Trinh, who served as curatorial intern in the Art Collections at The Huntington before joining The Broad in Los Angeles, gave us an in-depth look at abstract artist Emerson Woelffer and his dynamic painting Yellow Poem. Read “A Pure Act of Painting.” 

You can explore the bold strokes of Emerson Woelffer’s Yellow Poem in “A Pure Act of Painting.” Yellow Poem, 1960, oil on canvas. Gift of Adam Mekler in honor of Ariel Gabriella Mekler and Daphne Lane Beneke. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Photo by Kate Lain.

We explored the themes of “Gardens, Art, and Commerce in Chinese Woodblock Prints,” a major international loan exhibition in the Boone Gallery. It’s still open through Jan. 9, 2017. Read “Chinese Poetry, Painting, and Gardens.”

Nicole Alvarado, a college intern in The Huntington’s conservation lab, offered a behind-the-scenes glimpse of how she carefully unrolled and flattened 20 panoramic photographs belonging to the Homer D. Crotty collection. Read “Unrolling a Long Past.”

The opening of the new Jonathan and Karin Fielding Wing of the Scott Galleries in October included an inaugural exhibition of more than 200 works from the Fieldings’ magnificent collection of 18th- and early 19th-century American paintings, sculpture, furniture, ceramics, metal, needlework, and other decorative arts. Read “Becoming America.”

We published a Q&A with Dan Goods and David Delgado, visual strategists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, about the Orbit Pavilion, a large aluminum structure in which visitors can hear sounds representing the movement of the International Space Station and 19 Earth satellites. Read “Hearing NASA’s Earth-Science Satellites.”

Check out our Q&A with the visual strategists behind NASA/JPL’s Orbit Pavilion in “Hearing NASA’s Earth-Science Satellites.” Photo by Dan Goods.

Thank you for reading our blog. We hope you’ll return in 2017 for more great stories about our astonishing library, art, and garden collections.

Kevin Durkin is editor of Verso and managing editor in the office of communications and marketing at The Huntington.

Recent Lectures: Nov. 22–Dec. 13, 2016

Home to gorgeous gardens, spectacular art, and stunning rare books and manuscripts, The Huntington also offers an impressive slate of lectures and conferences on topics and themes related to its collections. Below are audio recordings of four recent lectures.

Aerospace in Southern California (Dec. 13, 2016)
The history of the aerospace industry in Southern California and its intersections with contemporary culture are the focus of a panel discussion, presented in conjunction with the exhibition of NASA’s Orbit Pavilion (on view at The Huntington through Feb. 27, 2017). Panelists are Peter Westwick, aerospace historian; William Deverell, director of the Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West; and Daniel Lewis, senior curator of the history of science and technology at The Huntington.

 

You Don’t Know Jack (Dec. 8, 2016)
In recognition of the centenary of Jack London’s death, The Huntington’s Sue Hodson, curator of literary manuscripts and former Jack London Foundation Woman of the Year, speaks about Jack London as a novelist, sailor, journalist, social activist, photographer, and adventurer, as well as about the importance of The Huntington’s 50,000-item Jack London collection.

 

Sex in the City (Dec. 7, 2016)
Margo Todd, Walter H. Annenberg Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania and the Fletcher Jones Foundation Distinguished Fellow, examines the campaign of the mostly lay judiciaries of the Calvinist Scottish kirk, or church, to impose a strict and highly invasive sexual discipline on their towns in the century following the Protestant Reformation. This talk is part of the Distinguished Fellow Lecture Series at The Huntington.

 

The Huang Family of Block Cutters: The Thread that Binds Late Ming Pictorial Woodblock Printmaking (Nov. 22, 2016)
David Barker, professor of printmaking at the China National Academy of Fine Arts in Hangzhou, considers the important contributions made to Chinese pictorial printing by the famous Huang family of artisan block cutters. This lecture is presented in conjunction with the exhibition “Gardens, Art, and Commerce in Chinese Woodblock Prints,” on view in the Boone Gallery.

Find more audio recordings of Huntington lectures and conferences on SoundCloud and iTunes U.

Finding Harmony in Battle

Medieval manuscripts curator Vanessa Wilkie in Battle, England, standing with visitors from France dressed as Norman soldiers, at the commemoration of the 1066 Battle of Hastings. Photo by Allan Millham.

I wrote my first serious history paper in 7th grade on the Battle of Hastings—the epic scene in 1066 when Duke William II of Normandy invaded England, defeating the Saxon King Harold. After the battle, England was ruled by a foreign king, court, and legal system.

Being a Hermione Granger type of student, I asked my mother to take me to the public library so I could do “real research”—no mere junior high textbook would do! For the first time in my young scholarly life, I read military histories, political histories, and books about the cultural clashes of Normans and Saxons.

I read about the victorious William, dubbed “the Conqueror,” and how he became the first Norman-French King of England and founded Battle Abbey on the site of the Battle of Hastings to celebrate his victory and pay respect to his fallen enemies. Hastings was the closest village, about seven miles away, so people started using that name to describe the battle. But, as Hastings referred to an established village, the town which grew up around the abbey was simply named Battle. It was in studying the events of 1066 that I first learned how one moment could impact the next, sending ripples through centuries.

A page from a volume of 13th and 14th century abstracts of charters, granting authorities in the County of Kent. Battle Abbey Collection, BA 29, ff. 144v–145. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Fast forward to 2016. As the William A. Moffett Curator of Medieval Manuscripts and British History at The Huntington, I am the curator for the Battle Abbey Collection. It’s my professional (and personal) honor to be its steward. Scholars from around the world come into our archives to delve into this material. Henry E. Huntington, the founder of our Library, purchased the collection in 1923, and it quickly became one of his most famous holdings. It’s composed of 3,000 manuscripts, representing the monastic archive for the abbey, including original deeds, court rolls, and account rolls.

In the medieval period, Battle Abbey was an important Benedictine abbey, controlling vast lands throughout the region. The monks were landlords, and the abbey became a seat of feudal power. The collection contains three cartularies (books of charters) from the 13th through the 15th centuries that include early copies of royal, papal, and episcopal charters.

In the 1530s, Henry VIII broke with the Roman Catholic Church, dissolved monasteries, and sold the abbey lands to the Browne family. The Webster family purchased the lands in the 18th century. Ultimately, in the 19th century, the Websters sold large portions of the medieval records from the abbey. The collection also includes some of the family papers for the Brownes and Websters, the other part of which resides in the East Sussex Record Office in the United Kingdom, placed on deposit there by descendants of the Webster family.

“Confirmation of Grant in Free Alms,” granting the abbot and convent of Battle control of certain lands, circa 1200. Battle Abbey Collection, BA 42/1503. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The Huntington’s collection offers deep understanding of the feudal practices of a medieval abbey and paints a detailed picture of the environmental landscape of these fertile lands. It also provides detailed financial accounts and serves as the founding documentation of the village that grew up on the site of one of the most famous battles in Western history. Earlier this year, this same collection, which draws so many scholars to it, pulled me away from it.

I was invited to the village of Battle to represent The Huntington and this collection during the commemoration—on Oct. 14, 2016—of the 950th anniversary of The Battle of Hastings. The group that organized the festivities, led by Chairman Simon Alexander, called the event Concorde 1066, using the word “concorde” to refer to “an agreement between like-minded people with a willingness to come together for a common cause.”

The event was a lovely reminder that The Huntington’s collections are relevant beyond our own beautiful gardens or the remarkable books published by our readers. The Battle Abbey Collection contains the medieval records for lands upon which people live today. Battle is a thriving community, and the abbey is now home to a school. The Huntington’s collection tells the origin story for this place.

“Cartulary for the Properties, Tithes, and Liberties of Battle Abbey,” an early 13th century charter issued by the sacristan granting administrative powers in lands owned by the Battle Abbey. Battle Abbey Collection, BA 30, ff. 90v–91. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Concorde 1066 was a day of secular and religious services, parades, luncheons, receptions, and public displays. The guest list hinted at the wide range of people impacted by the Battle of Hastings: ambassadors to Great Britain from France and Denmark, the Home Secretary, Members of Parliament, the Lord Lieutenant of East Sussex, the High Sheriff, the Bishop of Chichester, the Band of the Corps of Royal Engineers, and most importantly, the families who live in the village of Battle.

Battle Abbey sits majestically in the center of their town. They go to school there, attend local festivals and gatherings there, and enjoy tourism as a major part of their local economy. Battle residents are acutely aware of the historic significance of the site upon which their village sits. They are proud of this legacy and are generous hosts to the throngs of tourists who visit Battle every year.

At a time when Britons were debating their place within Europe, people from all walks of life gathered in this village to reflect on what it meant when the Normans conquered the Saxons, what the legacy of that is, and what it means for English-speaking people around the world. On that special day in October, political figures from Great Britain and the European continent, residents, and one American curator gathered to explore a shared past.

Schoolchildren in medieval dress parade in front of the gatehouse of the Battle Abbey. Photo by Paul Hollinghurst.

Vanessa Wilkie is William A. Moffett Curator of Medieval Manuscripts and British History at The Huntington.

Preserving Parks for People

William R. Leigh, Grand Canyon (1911), as adapted for Fred Harvey Service dining car menu, 1950. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Used with permission of the BNSF Railway Company.

“Geographies of Wonder: Evolution of the National Park Idea, 1933–2016,” an exhibition in the Library’s West Hall, examines how the idea of national parks evolved over time.

Two images at the entrance bookend the history of the park system, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. One is a full-color rendering of the Grand Canyon. Back in the late 19th century, awe-inspiring images like these made the case for preserving America’s scenic landscapes. The other image is a recent map of the proposed “Rim of the Valley” expansion of Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, a modern-day effort to preserve some of the last wild lands and historic sites in the greater Los Angeles area.

The exhibition’s nearly 100 items include maps, advertisements, illustrated guide books, travel narratives, promotional brochures, scientific surveys, reports, and correspondence. Taken together, they illustrate the paradox the National Park Service faces—how to make the lands under its management available for public enjoyment while preserving them for future generations.

People have streamed to the parks, since their inception, in ever-growing numbers. (An exception was the period during World War II, when the rationing of gasoline and rubber curtailed recreational travel and the parks were shut down.) In 2015, more than 300 million people visited the parks.

Burlington Route, United States Map and Vacation Guide, cover, 1938. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Burlington Route, United States Map and Vacation Guide, cover, 1938. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Railroad companies fostered national park tourism with enticements such as the Burlington Route’s “The National Park Line—Everywhere West.” Enthusiasm for travel by personal automobile was extolled in such advertisements as “Trails and Automobile Drives” in the Grand Canyon. The advent of air travel presented a pivot point, according to exhibition curator Peter Blodgett, H. Russell Smith Foundation Curator of Western Historical Manuscripts.

The headline from a 1936 United Airlines advertisement promises “14 Days in Yellowstone on a 2-Week Vacation!” A Western Airlines advertisement 10 years later ups the ante with a full-color photo of Bryce Canyon’s tall, slender rock spires, the so-called “hoodoo formations,” that neatly linked the breathtaking panorama with plane travel.

Observes Blodgett: “Americans wanting to immerse themselves in the wild relied on the epitome of transportation technology in that moment.”

Western Air Lines, “’Flight Seeing’ Spectacular America,” advertisement, 1946. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Western Air Lines, “’Flight Seeing’ Spectacular America,” advertisement, 1946. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

By the 1940s and 1950s, post-war prosperity brought hordes of vacationers that tipped the scales—putting extreme pressure on aging park facilities and threatening wildlife habitats. In the March 1949 issue of Harper’s Monthly, historian and conservationist Bernard DeVoto warned of the federal government’s failure to adequately fund the National Park Service: “the situation is shocking and it is becoming critical.”

Notre Dame University senior Robert Browne used his time as a Huntington intern this past summer to flesh out parts of the exhibition materials, including those related to the growing ecological movement. He examined the 1968 book Desert Solitaire by radical environmentalist Edward Abbey, who complained about automobile access to these protected landscapes. Abbey scorned the “indolent millions born on wheels and suckled by gasoline” who demanded that the parks accommodate their “industrial tourism.” Abbey’s words impressed Browne with their forcefulness. He also noted that the writer still seemed “at peace with himself because of how connected he was with the natural world.”

The very definition of national parks evolved over time. By the 1930s, locations once considered desolate and forbidding, such as California’s Death Valley and Joshua Tree, became national monuments. In the 1960s, the Park Service began protecting seashores, lakeshores, wild and scenic rivers, and historic trails.

Federal Writer’s Project, Death Valley: A Guide, cover, 1939. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Federal Writer’s Project, Death Valley: A Guide, cover, 1939. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The 1970s and 1980s brought the creation of national recreation areas adjacent to major urban areas, such as the Gateway National Recreation Area in New York City and San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. President Barack Obama may one day be remembered as the president who protected more public lands and waters than any previous president—265 million acres at last count.

In Blodgett’s view, these protections should not be taken for granted. Parks have remained a subject of contention throughout American life: “Like the protection of liberty, the protection of park spaces requires eternal vigilance,” he says.

What’s your view? Comment books in the entry hall are available for visitors to register their thoughts. Do you think it’s important to preserve parks for people?

“Geographies of Wonder: Evolution of the National Park Idea, 1933–2016” is on view in the Library’s West Hall through Feb. 13, 2017. The first part of this two part-exhibition, “Geographies of Wonder: Origin Stories of America’s National Parks, 1872–1933,” ran from May 14–Sept. 5, 2016.

Linda Chiavaroli is a volunteer in the office of communications and marketing.

Ben Jonson’s Readers

Detail of the title page of The Works of Benjamin Jonson, 1616, showing the inscription of Sir Henry Cary. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Detail of the title page of The Works of Benjamin Jonson, 1616, showing the inscription of Sir Henry Cary. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The poet and playwright Ben Jonson (1572–1637) was exceptionally concerned with literary posterity. His most ambitious publication was the folio collection of his Works that appeared 400 years ago this year. Through this monumental book, Jonson attempted to ensure that future generations would read and appreciate his plays, poems, and other writings.

How successful was that attempt? How did readers regard the book in the years after it appeared? What do their responses tell us about why Jonson was more celebrated than Shakespeare in the century or so after his death, only to be gradually eclipsed by his great rival? These are among the questions that I was able to explore through The Huntington’s outstanding Jonson holdings—which include more than 30 of Jonson’s 1616 Works, each one unique.

Fortunately for us, the early moderns were not afraid to write in their books. Many of The Huntington’s copies of Jonson’s Works carry in their pages the names of their owners. Sir Henry Cary (1575–1633), for example, inscribed his name right in the middle of the title page (see above), making it clear that the book no longer belonged to its author but to him.

Cary was 1st Viscount Falkland and Lord Deputy of Ireland. His primary interest in the volume may have been the poem of praise to him that begins: “That neither fame nor love might wanting be / To greatness, Cary, I sing that and thee . . .”

The Works of Benjamin Jonson, 1616, page 840, with note reading “Mary [Jones] Hodge trew hyme Exclently pend by Mr Ben Johnson.” The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The Works of Benjamin Jonson, 1616, page 840, with note reading “Mary [Jones] Hodge trew hyme Exclently pend by Mr Ben Johnson.” The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Other notable owners of Jonson’s Works in The Huntington’s collection include the essayist and poet Joseph Addison (1672–1719) and the great Victorian poet Robert Browning (1818–89). Most of the copies show evidence of having had multiple owners and readers. Some copies even record such circulation: one, for example, bears the inscription “S. Ruthin my Book Left me by a freind.” There are early female owners and readers, too, some of whom were not afraid to express their opinions. One Mary Jones Hodge, for example, singled out the poem “To Heaven” for praise as a “trew hyme” (see above).

Another reader, Abiel Borfet (1632/3–1710), wrote detailed comments on almost every page of his copy—and this in a book spanning more than 1,000 pages. He adds information, clarifies meanings, and records his responses. At one point, he identifies deeply with a speech about friendship and testifies to this moment of reading by adding his name and the date (see below).

Some of these early readers engage with Jonson’s writings by identifying his sources. Jonson’s writings are steeped in his knowledge of Horace, Ovid, Martial, Juvenal, Seneca, and other great writers of antiquity. Some of his early readers shared some of that knowledge and took it upon themselves to write quotations and references in the margins.

The Works of Benjamin Jonson, 1616, detail of page 142, with note reading “True! True to this day, May 18. 1696. Witness my hand, A. Borfet.” The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The Works of Benjamin Jonson, 1616, detail of page 142, with note reading “True! True to this day, May 18. 1696. Witness my hand, A. Borfet.” The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

One copy of Jonson’s Works contains nearly 250 of these source identifications, an impressive total which may include the contributions of more than one reader. The process of identifying Jonson’s sources was not straightforward. In one instance, you can see that a reader has underlined three lines and written a reference to the poet Juvenal. Then someone—either the same reader at a later time or a second reader—has added the relevant quotation and crossed out some of the underlining (see below). Are we witnessing one reader having second thoughts or two readers disagreeing about which lines exactly constitute the allusion?

Such close engagement requires from the reader what Borfet at one point refers to as “patience.” Borfet and other early readers recognize that a full appreciation of Jonson’s mastery comes from going beyond the immediate enjoyment of his art to having meaningful encounters with the classical texts that he reworks. Growing impatience among later readers may have been one factor in Jonson’s decline in popularity.

Exploring The Huntington’s copies of Jonson’s Works also invites us to reflect upon the nature of books. For early readers, a book such as this was a valuable and durable item. These readers knew that they were the custodians rather than truly the owners of their books, which would in time be sold, given away, exchanged, or bequeathed.

Seeing these copies brings home that a book is not just a vehicle for conveying a text. It is a significant artifact in itself that accretes new meanings as it moves through time and can give intimate insights into the thoughts of generations of readers. That is what sets the printed book apart from Kindles and other modern devices and makes it still so vital.

The Works of Benjamin Jonson, 1616, detail of page 353, with a marginal note giving a reference to Juvenal’s Satire 7 and a quotation from that poem: “qui facis in parva sublimia carmina [cella,] / Ut dignus venias hederis et imagine macra,” which may be translated as “you that are inditing lofty strains in a tiny garret, that you may come forth worthy of a scraggy bust wreathed with ivy.” The corresponding lines in Jonson’s text, which rework Juvenal’s words to suggest how hard Jonson himself has labored in order to be worthy of literary recognition, have been underlined. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The Works of Benjamin Jonson, 1616, detail of page 353, with a marginal note giving a reference to Juvenal’s Satire 7 and a quotation from that poem: “qui facis in parva sublimia carmina [cella,] / Ut dignus venias hederis et imagine macra,” which may be translated as “you that are inditing lofty strains in a tiny garret, that you may come forth worthy of a scraggy bust wreathed with ivy.” The corresponding lines in Jonson’s text, which rework Juvenal’s words to suggest how hard Jonson himself has labored in order to be worthy of literary recognition, have been underlined. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Related content on Verso:
Ben Jonson’s Works at 400 (Sept. 12, 2016)

Jane Rickard is associate professor of 17th-century English Literature at the University of Leeds. She is the author of Writing the Monarch in Jacobean England: Jonson, Donne, Shakespeare and the Works of King James and Authorship and Authority: The Writings of James VI and I.

Viewing Sam Francis in Another Light

Sam Francis’s Free Floating Clouds, 1980, acrylic on canvas. Gift of the Sam Francis Foundation. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Photo by Kate Lain.

Sam Francis’s Free Floating Clouds, 1980, acrylic on canvas. Gift of the Sam Francis Foundation. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Photo by Kate Lain.

I grew up in Southern California and have loved The Huntington since I first visited it on a high school field trip. Being an intern this past summer in the American art department was a dream come true. One of the first works that struck me on an early visit was Free Floating Clouds, a painting by Sam Francis (1923–1994), located in the Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art.

You don’t have to be an art history buff to be intrigued by this postwar piece. Its size alone demands attention. It’s the largest painting in the American collection, taking up an entire wall, and measures 125 by 254 inches—or roughly 10 by 21 feet. Its contrast of mainly dark blue splatters against a white background forms a loose grid-like pattern. The abstract nature of the work doesn’t offer me any obvious clues to its meaning or make a connection to the title.

Detail of Free Floating Clouds. Photo by Kate Lain.

Detail of Free Floating Clouds. Photo by Kate Lain.

Like me, Francis was a California native: he was born in San Mateo and received both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UC Berkeley. When he was 21 and a pilot in the U.S. Army Air Corps, he suffered a spinal injury, followed by spinal tuberculosis. During his hospitalization, he began to paint to distract himself from his illness. He had been studying medicine but eventually gave that up to pursue a career in art.

During the 1950s, Francis began making the fluid and dripping shapes that would appear in his later works and throughout his career, notably in Free Floating Clouds, completed in 1980.

Detail of Free Floating Clouds. Photo by Kate Lain.

Detail of Free Floating Clouds. Photo by Kate Lain.

By then, Francis’s painting had become more structured. He adopted a grid or matrix pattern that gave his work an underlying composition—a technique many of his contemporaries were also using. Photographs and films of the artist at work reveal that he would lay the canvas flat on the floor of his studio and prime the surface with white gesso. He would then sketch his composition onto the canvas with a sponge, brush, or paint roller, applying a thin wash of color that would organize the canvas into vertical and horizontal axes. These washes are still visible on the outer edges of the painted areas. Then he would build on the composition, using successive layers of color.

When I first looked at Free Floating Clouds in high school, it seemed like random drips and splatters that anyone could have painted—a common critique of abstract art. As I read more about Francis and spent time looking at the painting, I realized that the underlying grid provides a sense of structure, producing a balanced and harmonious feeling. By using the grid as the anchor of the painting, the artist could explore color and action on his own terms. As the artist and art collector Nicholas Wilder explained, Francis could “marry many different colors with different qualities . . . and make it appear that it happened spontaneously, all at one moment . . . the results are not fortunate accidents, but carefully conceived compositions.”

Detail of Free Floating Clouds. Photo by Kate Lain.

Detail of Free Floating Clouds. Photo by Kate Lain.

Similarly, at first glance, the artist seems to have layered just blue paint on a white background. But closer inspection reveals a rainbow of colors—reds, purples, greens, and pinks among the blues—in different thicknesses and washes. Francis used all acrylic emulsion paints on Free Floating Clouds; as in most of his works, he often used unmixed pigments directly from the tube to create intense, undiluted colors.

One of his more unusual techniques was using Photo-Flo, a wetting agent for developing film, which gives the surface a watercolor-like quality. Applying Photo-Flo caused the colors to run together and merge in varying ways, producing unexpected shapes and designs from a seemingly random technique. With Photo-Flo and other means, Francis varied the surface texture and the degree to which it reflects light. Some areas are glossy, others matte; some smooth, others richly textured.

Detail of Free Floating Clouds. Photo by Kate Lain.

Detail of Free Floating Clouds. Photo by Kate Lain.

I didn’t know any of these technical details when I first saw Free Floating Clouds, but I responded immediately to its dark, intense colors and Rorschach-like blots. Learning that Sam Francis was a pilot helped me read the title into the painting, imagining how the artist’s early experiences above the clouds may have informed his perspective.

Technical details can help us appreciate abstract works of art, enabling us to understand how and why a piece was created and what it is supposed to mean, if anything at all.

Detail of Free Floating Clouds. Photo by Kate Lain.

Detail of Free Floating Clouds. Photo by Kate Lain.

Related content on Verso:
A Pure Act of Painting (Aug. 10, 2016)

Nicole Block is part of an ongoing undergraduate internship program that places art history majors from UC Irvine in the American art department of The Huntington’s Art Collections division. Her thesis project will be on Sam Francis.

The Beard Makes the Man

John Deare (British, 1759–1798), Album leaf: Bust of Septimius Severus, Roman Emperor, ca. 1788, pen and black ink and wash on paper, rendered here in black and white. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

John Deare (British, 1759–1798), Album leaf: Bust of Septimius Severus, Roman Emperor, ca. 1788, pen and black ink and wash on paper, rendered here in black and white. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Is identity mutable? Can you alter who you are? Whether or not real transformation is achievable, it is possible to change how others view you. A new exhibition in the Huntington Art Gallery examines an age-old tool used in the effort to influence perception: facial hair. “A History of Whiskers: Facial Hair and Identity in European and American Art, 1750–1920” includes prints, drawings, and photographs of some impressive and bizarre styles that pushed the limits of follicular fashion.

Nowhere is image more important than in the realm of politics, and this is as true today as it was in antiquity. Beards were part of the political costume of ancient Rome. A drawing by British sculptor John Deare shows Emperor Septimius Severus (A.D. 145–211) with long facial locks—a style known as the “philosopher’s beard” because of the many great thinkers in ancient Greece and Rome who sported it. Portraiture was a vital component of a ruler’s public relations campaign, and the philospher’s beard connoted wisdom. The emperor’s likeness—facial hair and all—appeared on coins, equestrian monuments, and portrait busts, like the one recorded by Deare. Septimius Severus took power at a time of great instability, so it was especially important that he present himself as a thoughtful, level-headed leader. The branding seemed to have worked. He went on to reign for nearly twenty years.

Ehrgott, Forbriger, & Co. (American, 1856–74), A.E. Burnside, Maj. Genl. U.S.A., ca. 1862–69, lithograph. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Ehrgott, Forbriger, & Co. (American, 1856–74), A.E. Burnside, Maj. Genl. U.S.A., ca. 1862–69, lithograph. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Grooming manuals of the late 19th and early 20th centuries advised against thin or patchy facial hair, which could make a man appear weak, or so the manuals warned. Ambrose Burnside (1824–1881), Union Army general in the U.S. Civil War, never suffered from scant growth. He cultivated a bold, personal style that earned him a place in the history of facial hair. He is the namesake of sideburns, but Burnside sported more than his eponymous whiskers. The general grew a mustache that extended across his face, covered his cheeks, and connected to his hairline at the ears. This style had already gone out of fashion, however, by the time of Mrs. Humphry’s Etiquette for Every Day, published in 1909. She urged moderation in facial hair, warning that too large a mustache imparts “a belligerent, aggressive air.” Burnside’s style may have been appropriate for leading troops but evidently was ill-suited to civilian life.

Not all of the images in the exhibition portray historical figures. Take, for example, the image of Caliban by British figure painter John Hamilton Mortimer (1740–1779). Caliban is a beastly character from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and he is made even more gruesome by means of facial hair. There is no standard way to depict Caliban. His mother is a witch, and Prospero, the play’s protagonist, describes him as a “poisonous slave, got by the devil himself.”

After John Hamilton Mortimer (British, 1740–1779), Caliban, undated, pen and black ink on paper mounted on board, rendered here in black and white. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

After John Hamilton Mortimer (British, 1740–1779), Caliban, undated, pen and black ink on paper mounted on board, rendered here in black and white. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Some artists imagined him as a deformed man or a creature with a mix of human and fish traits. Mortimer emphasized Caliban’s devilish nature by including a modification of the goatee commonly found in images of Satan, making the beard specifically suited to this hybrid character. Caliban is nefarious, simple-minded, and subhuman. His sagging mustache and pastiche of chin growth are ungroomed and otherworldly, perfectly capturing the character traits of the feral, demonic creature.

One need only look at the preponderance of facial hair on major league baseball players today to realize that beards and mustaches have experienced yet another resurgence. “A History of Whiskers” offers a valuable opportunity to take a look back and observe how men have styled themselves throughout the ages. Fashions have changed, but the desire of individuals to transform how others view them is timeless.

James Fishburne is guest curator of “A History of Whiskers: Facial Hair and Identity in European and American Art, 1750–1920.” He received his Ph.D. in art history from UCLA and is currently a research associate at the Getty Research Institute.

The Brave New (and Old) World of Data

Edison photographer Doug White’s overhead shot of three computer key punch operators creating data entry cards, undated. Southern California Edison Archive. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Edison photographer Doug White’s overhead shot of three computer key punch operators creating data entry cards, undated. Southern California Edison Archive. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Data, made up of units so uniform as to be, almost by necessity, boring, unite to form collectives of information in a data-driven world that is recognized now as exciting, sexy, and consummately modern. And not for the first time, we must add. At least since the rise of print culture, the thrill of data has been linked to brave new technologies.

An international group of historians will consider the promises, fears, practices, and technologies for recording and transmitting data from the 18th century to the present—as well as their implications for the lives of citizens and subjects—during the “Histories of Data and the Database” conference on Nov. 18 and 19 in Rothenberg Hall.

We will follow the history of data from the indexing systems and encyclopedias in early modern Europe, to the printed forms and filing schemes of the late 19th century, to the advent of electronic computers in the last years of the second millennium, which have managed such increasingly large amounts of data that their output must now be stored in an even newer technology—the Cloud.

Slide filing cabinet, biomedical laboratory, 2016. Photo by Soraya de Chadarevian.

Slide filing cabinet, biomedical laboratory, 2016. Photo by Soraya de Chadarevian.

Behind all the data, in one form or another, are people. Indeed, well into the 20th century, humans performed data analysis (and, often enough, they still do). Data analysis became a specialty, and even an occupational category—the so-called “computer.” Up until about 1860, this was usually a man, and thereafter was more likely a woman. Astronomers, archeologists, and medical officers depended on such calculators, as did business firms and government offices. Human heredity, one of the more illustrious objects of data manipulation in the genomic era, was already a data science in 1850.

Until 1860, most censuses relied on large sheets of paper carried from door to door by officials who filled out a single line for each household. Many other enterprises, such as observatories, hospitals, government offices, and merchant vessels kept records in bound books. Sometimes their data were simply entombed there, but some of these records were routinely consulted or even combined with financial statements or maps to summarize or reveal patterns.

By 1900, those managing the Prussian census were sending out crates of large cards to Berlin homeworkers to sort cards manually. Using movements like those of a dealer in a casino to sort cards, these workers helped officials create tables of data that combined up to six different variables. After completing the first round, the census officials often sent the cards out again to be sorted in a different way to display the relations among a different set of variables. From their inception, filing systems with index cards brought unprecedented suppleness to data work.

Hollerith punched card, 1895. Library of Congress.

Hollerith punched card, 1895. Library of Congress.

In our digital era, data appears to be immaterial, floating somewhere, or even nowhere. In truth, our modern data deluge depends on great banks of computers and consumes vast quantities of energy. Such data does not melt away, at least not so long as the air conditioning continues to function.

The incomparable increase of data in our own age also includes more waste than ever. The Big Data Hall of Fame for the early 21st century will be filled with heroes who worked out algorithms for processing data from social media to manage advertisements in such a way that seven in a thousand recipients will click the desired link, rather than a mere four or five.

One of the tasks of history is to identify the sources of what enthusiasts proclaim to be utterly new and revolutionary. Yet history is about change and novelty rather than stasis. The wonderful world of data combines the ethereal and the mundane, material things and lofty theories, breakthroughs and bureaucracy. Data seems to beg to be made routine, yet it regularly undermines known rules and conventions. And while seemingly impersonal, it has, in fact, a very human history.

You can read more about the conference program and registration on The Huntington’s website.

Theodore Porter is Distinguished Professor of History and Peter Reill Chair in European History at UCLA.

Soraya de Chadarevian is professor of history with a joint appointment in the UCLA Department of History and the UCLA Center for Society and Genetics.

Hearing NASA’s Earth Science Satellites

As visual strategists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Dan Goods and David Delgado use art and design to explain science. Their newest project is the Orbit Pavilion sound experience, which recently opened at The Huntington. The large silver structure sits on the Celebration Lawn by the terrace of the 1919 café. Inside, visitors can hear sounds representing the movement of the International Space Station and 19 Earth satellites. We asked Goods and Delgado about the thinking behind the project.

Dan Goods (left) and David Delgado test the iPad where visitors can determine which satellite is passing above their heads. Sounds from 28 speakers help visitors “hear” the satellites. Photo by Kate Lain.

Dan Goods (left) and David Delgado test the iPad where visitors can determine which satellite is passing above their heads. Sounds from 28 speakers help visitors “hear” the satellites. Photo by Kate Lain.

Q: Why Earth science satellites?

Goods: Most people know JPL from the Mars missions. But about a third of what we do is related to Earth science. These satellites are constantly circling the globe, relaying information about land, atmosphere, and oceans. That data helps us understand things like earthquakes, the presence of hurricanes, the melting of glaciers.

Q: What was the genesis of this project?

Delgado: We were in the Mojave Desert touring Goldstone, one of three communications complexes NASA uses to track and guide missions in deep space. Here was this huge antenna doing this crucial work of relaying information to and from spacecraft and yet everything was silent. That got us thinking about ways to represent things that can’t be seen or heard.

The cuts in the panels represent the orbits of satellites, which circle the globe approximately every 90 minutes. Photo by Kate Lain.

The cuts in the panels represent the orbits of satellites, which circle the globe approximately every 90 minutes. Photo by Kate Lain.

Q: What exactly are we hearing in the pavilion?

Delgado: We worked with Oakland-based sound artist Shane Myrbeck to give each of the 19 satellites its own “voice.” There are two phases to the sound experience. One phase allows us to hear the satellites passing overhead in real-time—essentially the satellites saying hello to us in their own unique way. Depending on how many satellites are in orbit above you, you will sometimes hear more sounds than at other times. Then, in the second phase, Myrbeck created a one-minute composition representing the orbits of these satellites over 24 hours. The sounds are inspired by aspects of Earth’s ecology being studied in three categories: land, atmosphere, and ocean. For instance, the sound of the satellite Cloudsat, which tracks weather clouds, is represented by desert wind. Then there are sounds related to land and water. The only human voices are of a choir, representing the International Space Station.

Goods: An iPad tells you which phase you’re in, and if the sound is related to real-time data, the iPad’s screen will tell you which satellite you’re “hearing.”

JPL’s visual strategists contend that The Huntington is a “dream spot” to install the Orbit Pavilion. They love the natural setting and the presence of botanical collections from around the world. Photo by Kate Lain.

JPL’s visual strategists contend that The Huntington is a “dream spot” to install the Orbit Pavilion. They love the natural setting and the presence of botanical collections from around the world. Photo by Kate Lain.

Q: The pavilion is a 30-foot wide structure made from bands of aluminum attached to a tubular frame. Why the seashell shape?

Delgado: We worked with designers Jason Klimoski and Lesley Chang of the New York design firm StudioKCA to come up with the nautilus shape. If you’ve ever held a seashell up to your ear, then you may remember listening to the “sounds of the ocean.” In this case, you’re listening to the sounds of satellites. It is visually striking and elevates the experience as a whole.

Q: What makes The Huntington a good setting for the Orbit Pavilion?

Goods: Part of Orbit’s message is ecology. We love the fact that Orbit is in a natural setting at The Huntington, surrounded by botanical collections from around the world. Then there’s the connection to the library collection. It’s amazing to think that rare books by early astronomers Galileo Galilei and Johannes Kepler are so close by.

The 72 panels of water-jet cut aluminum are bolted to the frame to create a double-curved shell. Photo by Dan Goods.

The 72 panels of water-jet cut aluminum are bolted to the frame to create a double-curved shell. Photo by Dan Goods.

Orbit Pavilion is on view on the Celebration Lawn (across from the Celebration Garden) through Feb. 27, 2017. The Orbit Pavilion kicks off /five, a contemporary arts initiative focused on collaboration between The Huntington and five organizations over a period of five years. The aim is to engage with the Huntington’s library, art, and botanical collections in new and thought-provoking ways. The /five initiative is made possible by a generous gift from The Cheng Family Foundation. Additional funding for Orbit Pavilion was provided by Kim and Ginger Caldwell and the Bry and Judi Danner President’s Discretionary Fund.

For more information on NASA’s Earth science satellites, visit the Mapel Orientation Gallery. You’ll find “Eyes on the Earth,” an interactive program on a large touchscreen, where you can learn more about what the satellites are tracking—such as sea level height or global temperature.

Diana W. Thompson is senior writer for the office of communications and marketing at The Huntington.