Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Visit "Vintage Science" on Flikr!

Science of the past is something best expressed in the visual arts, mostly because as William Gibson pointed out in his short story, "the Gernsback Continuum," the 1920s and up were the first era where visual artists were involved in defining science and technology. As Gibson put it:

"At the turn of the century, most pencil sharpeners looked like pencil sharpeners, a basic Victorian mechanism. After the 1920s many looked like they were designed in a wind tunnel."

I have the good fortune to live in New York City, which has a ton of buildings that look like Ming the Merciless designed them. This futurism was an art style that, like Film Noir, another American creation, that we didn't even know realized we had created until long after the fact.

Read the Gernsback Continuum here at American Heritage. I'd actually list it as one of the ten most important American short stories, actually. Gibson actually mentioned Frank R. Paul, an artist that was forgotten and then rediscovered two generations later, like Zora Neal Hurston.

And while you're at it, visit this gallery of vintage science illustrations and concepts on Flikr! Some of these are absolutely perfect for rainy days when you have nothing but a computer. I think I've found a new way to vaporize time online, other than Wikipedia, of course.

These designs have to be seen to be believed. Being a Masters student in Geoscience, my mind immediately went to the Victorian era diagram on minerals.


  1. Love it. A worthy way to pass my time on the internet-I can expect to see many things I wish would exist today. I'm still waiting on the widespread electric cars promised to me by Scholastic magazine in 1996.

    Did you catch the Perseids?

  2. I try to catch the annual Perseid meteor shower but, I couldn't leave the city (or even head to Fort Tryon Park). Besides, it was muggy and ugly and cloudy.

    We should collaborate sometime on the philosophy of science. In my own field (Geology) there's a lot of discussion about how some of the giants of the early field, James Hutton in particular, reached the concept of uniformitarianism NOT by observation but by the use of catholic views of an unchanging cosmos.

    The only thing I find more exhausting and annoying than Catholics are zealous Anti-Catholics and many misinformed atheists like myself fall into that category. Like all forces, Catholicism shaped science in many ways, not just for the negative. The role that religion plays in the very epistemology of science should be acknowledged.