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Abstract

I don't often write about what I'm writing about, since I'm too busy writing it to write it up. I do, however, have a reasonable working draft of my dissertation abstract at the moment. The title is the best working title I've found yet, but if I - or you - or anyone else - can come up with a better one, I'm happy to use it instead.

This is a work in progress. The content should give you a good idea of what the dissertation is about, but it covers so many odds and ends that I'm not always sure how to work it into a coherent abstract. There are all sorts of pieces of information which feel important to me, but which I have left out.

All feedback and questions are most welcome.

The Memory of Medieval Inventions, 1200-1600:
Windmills, Spectacles, Sandglasses, and Mechanical Clocks


Medieval and Early Modern historical, literary, and art historical sources reveal a great deal about contemporary awareness of the recentness of invention. Histories of invention show how much a historian, one interested in the subject of the antiquity of a technology, actually knew. Most Medieval histories of invention, such as those appended to categorizations of knowledge, rely ultimately on classical sources for their content and their authority, with Pliny’s Natural History a popular source. Literary material, including Froissart's L'orloge amoureuse, Christine de Pisan’s L’épître d’Othéa, Petrarch’s Trionfi, or Dante’s Divina Commedia, often includes off-handed references to the origins of objects or includes descriptions of recently invented technologies. The art historical evidence is useful in the early part of this period for its attestations to the existence of objects, particularly in the case of the sandglass, but becomes more clearly informative in the sixteenth century, when the perception of anachronism became a feature of visual representation.

I have traced the history of Medieval and Early Modern memory of invention through four case studies. On one extreme, there was no contemporary awareness of the recentness of the sandglass’ invention; on the other, an author in the late thirteenth century bears witness that the mechanical clock will be invented sometime soon, for it was a problem on which the author’s contemporaries were actively working. In the case of eyeglasses, two early fourteenth century texts note the recentness of their invention, yet there seems to be almost no knowledge of their recentness until the beginning of the seventeenth century when those two documents were rediscovered, at least, not outside of Tuscany.

Our knowledge of the consciousness of people from this time period of windmills as a recent invention is complicated by the way that histories of invention were written. Authors such as Giovanni Tortelli and Polydore Vergil were interested in the first appearance of a given technology. Since watermills, whose invention dates from the end of the Roman Empire, substantially predated the invention of windmills, a comment on the probable origin of the watermill sufficed for a discussion of all mills.

Finally, my dissertation draws on the evidence from the case studies in order to analyze Lynn White’s influential 1962 article “The Iconography of Temperantia and the Virtuousness of Technology”. His article analyzes a striking new iconographic program in mid-fifteenth century France, a program termed by Emile Mâle and Rosemond Tuve the “new iconography” of personifications of the cardinal and theological virtues. In this series of images, Temperance is shown with a mechanical clock on her head, spectacles in one hand, a bridle in her other, spurs on her feet, and standing on a windmill. White argued that the new iconography was a conscious praise of new technologies. I argue that his conclusion is unlikely, given the antiquity of the bridle, and the way in which contemporary histories of invention were exclusively interested in the first instance of a group of objects’ invention.

Comments

( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
rhiannon76
Jan. 25th, 2005 04:26 pm (UTC)
i like your title-- it rolls off the tongue (or mental tongue, anyway) very nicely.

otherwise, all i have to say is... i wanna read it when you're done! :)
owlfish
Jan. 26th, 2005 03:48 am (UTC)
Thank you! It's a relief to finally have a presentable title. I've had various space-fillers in there along the way, which were never terribly descriptive or elegant.

You'll be most welcome to read it when I'm finished.
morganlf
Jan. 25th, 2005 05:00 pm (UTC)
what a smartie!
that last paragraph rocks. It sounds so interesting! The title is good too. :-)
owlfish
Jan. 26th, 2005 03:49 am (UTC)
Re: what a smartie!
Thank you! I'm glad I can still make my topic sound interesting after spending this much time with it. It helps I still really like my material.
saffronjan
Jan. 25th, 2005 08:02 pm (UTC)
** basks in glow of your brilliance **
Your title is nicely alliterative. I like it.

How long after you submit this loveliness do you have to defend? How soon will you be able to be with Colin again?

** realizes that if you're with Colin, you will be far far away... starts pre-emptively missing you **
owlfish
Jan. 26th, 2005 03:48 am (UTC)
Re: ** basks in glow of your brilliance **
There are all sorts of phases of submission. The sort I'm working to is the first earliest kind: to my advisor. He will read it, then I'll make revisions based on what he suggests. Then my committee gets a go at it. The dissertation has to be submitted to the external reviewer at least six weeks before the defense date. After the defense, if revisions are required (and they usually are), then there will be more revisions. The official U of T meaning of "submit" is handing in a polished copy post-defense to SGS. In other words, I'm here a while yet. But my goal is to have this whole process finished by June at the latest.

Colin and I will be visiting each other in March, definitely. We haven't worked out the details. I'll have done some sort of submission by then and he'll have been working just long enough he can have some vacation if he wants it.
cliosfolly
Jan. 25th, 2005 09:32 pm (UTC)
I like the last paragraph in particular, primarily because that's where you make the most specific references to the synthesis and analysis your dissertation performs.

It seems to me that the second paragraph, and a bit of the third, are dealing with contemporary awareness of technological invention and development; maybe a summary sentence at the end of that second paragraph? A bridge between the second and third paragraphs might be useful as well.

But, overall, it seems informative about the major topics and types of materials discussed! I'd enjoy reading it sometime--particularly the bit about sandglasses and literary references to technological developments.
owlfish
Jan. 26th, 2005 03:45 am (UTC)
Thank you for the informative feedback. It'll be useful in revising the abstract.

I would love you to read it! Just a bit more work to do...
forthright
Jan. 25th, 2005 10:40 pm (UTC)
First of all, your title rocks! It reads like a book title, which is of course what you want! I'm not a fan of double-barrelledness, but I remember you telling me that you included the inventions to be more search-accessible, which seems very sensible. I particularly like the Oxford comma.

I think you ought to combine the second and third paragraphs, shortening the section on windmills to include all four inventions in a single paragraph. In particular, the sentence 'Our knowledge of the consciousness ...' could be rewritten to read 'The case of windmills is complicated by the way that histories of invention were written'. Doing so shows that you are treating all four on an equal basis rather than giving special priority to windmills.

A final nit: I initially misread the sentence 'I argue that his conclusion is unlikely, given the antiquity of the bridle, and the way in which contemporary histories of invention were exclusively interested in the first instance of a group of objects’ invention.' because I read 'in the first instance' as the set phrase meaning 'firstly'. You could replace 'instance' with 'appearance' with no loss of meaning. But perhaps I've been reading too much 19th century academic material, and no one uses 'in the first instance' that way today.

At any rate, this is a very strong abstract! Of course you'll have to write several of these to deal with various length requirements, but this can serve as a basis for shorter ones in the future.

owlfish
Jan. 26th, 2005 03:44 am (UTC)
Thank you so much for the concretely detailed feedback! I will be making use of it in the near future.

You're very right about finding a way to treat the inventions equally. It's what I want to do, of course, but equally I felt I had to start my elaboration somewhere. The second and third paragraphs are awkward, you're right.

If you can confuse my meaning, then so can other people. Clarity is good. I'll change my first instance.
suslikuk
Jan. 26th, 2005 10:46 am (UTC)
The title immediately posed the question "why those four items", but you answer that comprehensively later on which is rather nice. I'm with everyone else on really liking the last paragraph, so don't touch it. :-)
Don't know what common practise is like in your field, but in mine (CS/maths) we don't normally cite texts in the abstract unless they're key to the thesis. So maybe drop most of the specific refs in the first para, and I'd agree with forthright about merging para 3 into para 2. The last sentence of para 3 seems a bit on-its-own to me.
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )