Web page about recording research path, pre-computer age?
October 13, 2012 10:25 PM   Subscribe

Machine for recording research path, pre computer-age? Library books on a waterwheel device? Please point me to the right web page...

Hi hivemind - please help! A few months ago I'm was looking into the origins of computing. I came across a web page article about a modern web-service that records web-surfing research history (perhaps it was linked from metafilter?).

Either in the comments or in the article itself it linked to another webpage (.pdf?). This page pointed out recording our research histories is not a new need. I'm sure there was some text about why understanding how we reach a conclusion from research is important and that a forgotten father of modern computing did try to tackle this problem.

I recall seeing a black and white illustration / diagram of a man at a desk with books on a waterwheel-style device for ease of reading. It could be 18th/19th/20th century?

Can you please point me in the direction of the web pages that I saw?

I may well have mixed up two articles in my memory.
I'm sorry for being so vague, but any hints or tips would be much appreciated.
posted by Speculatist to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I follow a blog called Taking Note which has covered some ideas along these lines, and where I feel like I vaguely recall seeing a similar thing some time in the last year or three.
posted by brennen at 10:37 PM on October 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: No illustration of physical books on a waterwheel, but Vannevar Bush's As We May Think from the July 1945 issue of The Atlantic touches using automation to record research paths, and is from the dawn of the modern computing era.

Also, have you tried google image search on book wheel? The top hits include two different drawings which may be the one from your article. If you recognize it, but the page the image is on isn't the one you were looking for, the link for "more sizes" of that image will give you google's listings for all sorts of pages that image appears on.
posted by radwolf76 at 11:15 PM on October 13, 2012

Best answer: You may be thinking of the BoingBoing post, Bookwheel: the multiple-tabbed browser of the XVIth Century.
posted by Jasper Friendly Bear at 11:43 PM on October 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: No idea. Not Memex?
posted by sebastienbailard at 11:53 PM on October 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also look up Ramon Llull's Ars Magna.
posted by kandinski at 1:45 AM on October 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

The image of the bookwheel comes from Agostino Ramelli's Le diverse et artificiose machine (1588). Ramelli described it as follows:

This is a beautiful and ingenious machine, very useful and convenient for anyone who takes pleasure in study, especially those who are indisposed and tormented by gout. For with this machine a man can see and turn through a large number of books without moving from one spot. Moveover, it has another fine convenience in that it occupies very little space in the place where it is set, as anyone of intelligence can clearly see from the drawing.

It was made famous by Anthony Grafton and Lisa Jardine in their article '"Studied for Action": How Gabriel Harvey read his Livy' (PDF copy here), which looks at one heavily annotated volume from the sixteenth century and uses it to reconstruct Renaissance reading practices. (Fun fact: Grafton has a bookwheel installed in his office at Princeton.)

Since then there have been innumerable articles riffing off the idea of the bookwheel as 'Renaissance hypertext'. Here's one of the more thoughtful responses: Does Surfing the Net Change How We Think?
posted by verstegan at 1:53 AM on October 14, 2012 [3 favorites]

Various relevant devices are discussed in Alex Wright's book Glut: Mastering Information Through The Ages.
posted by James Scott-Brown at 3:08 AM on October 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Hi all - just to say many thanks for all of your answers - I've clicked on all of your posted links. I do remember seeing the BoingBoing post and reading "As we may think" around the same time. So... I don't have the exact article yet, but I feel a lot closer to it - thank you.
posted by Speculatist at 3:47 AM on October 14, 2012

Response by poster: And I've found one of the pages I was thinking about, thanks to you:
“How did you find my site?” and Vannevar Bush’s memex
posted by Speculatist at 4:04 AM on October 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Daniel Libeskind built a bookwheel recently, if you need some contemporary intellectual-flavored pixie dust to sprinkle on a thesis or something.
posted by sebastienbailard at 3:20 PM on October 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

"Daniel Libeskind built a bookwheel recently, "

And a design-project called 'The Memory Machine'. (I'm assuming not everyone clicked though that link.)
posted by sebastienbailard at 1:00 AM on October 15, 2012

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