Filed under automata

Time and Control

There seems to be a general assumption that clocks were invented to control people, as part of the industrialisation of the west, etc. but as ‘Shaping the Day’ by Paul Glennie & Nigel Thrift explain, the truth is far more complicated. Time keeping existed about 3,000 years ago, but it was in 2 forms. The … Continue reading

What is a clock?

This seems a stupid question. Even with our choices of dials, digital or talking, we know what they are. But mechanical time keeping began as alarm clocks, to wake priests for their services, or to announce services through the day, or for people to take lunch breaks. Sometimes the alarm would disturb a human who … Continue reading

Royal Censorship

The grand annual fairs were generally seen as places beyond official control, but it depends on who the audience was, and insulting the dead is never going to win friends. This is from John Evelyn’s diary of 1692: “15 Sep. there happen’d an Earthquake, which tho’ not so great as to do any harm in … Continue reading

Papist Fopperies

One of the biggest objections to Catholics during and after the Reformation was their use of human images, which is specifically banned in the Bible. This objection was waived centuries before to allow Christianity to spread, as the use of images is a powerful tool in evangelising. This is from John Evelyn’s Diary of 1672: … Continue reading

Spaniards Aping the Brits

London in the 18th century became the place to make money, but also to pick up new skills to take home and make money from. I recently discovered that while Harrison was working on his famous Longtitude clock, he welcomed people to come and view it, despite the fact that he was chasing the huge … Continue reading

Hogarth on Vaucanson

When the French inventor/mechanic/clever clogs Jacques de Vaucanson came to London in 1743 to display his incredible automata – as reported in a previous blog – his duck, flute player and tabor player were all the talk of the town. It was shown at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket. Nobody had ever seen such life-like machinery, … Continue reading

Collectors and Collections

This is from Patrick Mauries’ wonderful, richly illustrated book ‘Cabinets of Curiosities’ which is brilliant: “The story of cabinets of curiosities is above all that of a handful of figures scattered throughout the length and breadth of Europe in the age of the Baroque. John Tradescant and Elias Ashmole in Oxford, Addrovandi and Manfredo Settala … Continue reading

On Collecting

From medieval times, or perhaps earlier, people of learning were also people who collected, and cabinets of curiosities, or Kunstkammers became foci for learned people to discuss and exchange ideas. This is from ‘Finders Keepers, Eight Collectors by Rosamond Wolff Purcell & Stephen Jay Gould: “.. our collectors do hold one trait in common – … Continue reading

Automata and Christianity

Automation is generally seen as a means of making humans redundant, of destroying cottage industries, but in the early 18th century in England and France, there was a desperate shortage of church organists so barrel organs became popular in churches. Stained glass windows were often used for telling Bible stories, the bible of the poor, … Continue reading

An Unmissable Show

This is the only account I’ve found for this so doubt it was much of a crowd puller. It is perhaps of more interest for the fact that it existed at all. This is from the Bath Journal of 1773: This is to acquaint the curious, that there is to be seen at the Wheatsheaf, … Continue reading