Thesis ID: CBB951683937

Visual Agency in Euclid's Elements: A Study of the Transmission of Visual Knowledge (2020)


Through investigation of diagrams in Euclid's Elements, this dissertation aims to study how visual knowledge has been transmitted. In the study of the history of the Elements, there has been an assumption that the text and diagrams in the work were both conveyed together. Upon this conventional assumption, the diagrams were regarded as static or subordinate to the text. This dissertation questions the supposed diagrams' dependence on the text, and argues that we should study the transmission of diagrams as their own process. Visual agency will be explored as an autonomous function of diagram makers to draw according to their discretion. According to the history of the Elements, I classify diagram makers who held visual agency into four groups: scribes, translators, readers, and printing presses. These four types of visual agents interpreted and reinterpreted diagrams over time: 1) scribes corrected diagrams mathematically and systematized them visually; 2) translators filtered the variants of diagrams and invented derivatives of diagrams; 3) readers expanded and proofread mathematical ideas through diagrams; 4) printing presses standardized diagrams and enhanced pedagogical value of them. This analysis of visual agencies leads us to a more comprehensive understanding of the transmission of diagrams. While past scholarship only understood the transmission of diagrams as a perceptual process (conducted through textual instruction and archetype diagrams), this dissertation examines both the perceptual process and the conceptual process (through visual agency). This work reveals the characteristics of the transmission of diagrams as an autonomous and knowledge-conducive process. Indeed, Euclid's diagrams have been the space where the continuous birth of mathematical ideas was invited. The discussion of the visual agency in Euclid's Elements reaches beyond the transmission of mathematical diagrams. The patterns of changes found in the transmission of mathematical diagrams may be compared with those of all sorts of other diagrams such as schematic maps, astronomical diagrams, and theological diagrams. This comparison tells us whether and how mathematical diagrams were different from other diagrams in terms of transmission. In this way the project serves to explore the complex transmission of visual knowledge latent beneath the surface of textual transmission.

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Authors & Contributors
Saito, Ken
De Young, Gregg
Carman, Christián Carlos
Ito, Kenji
Kaiser, David Isaac
Hall, Karl
Historia Mathematica
Nuncius: Annali di Storia della Scienza
Spontaneous Generations
Archive for History of Exact Sciences
Social Studies of Science
MIT Press
Visual representation; visual communication
Transmission of texts
Feynman, Richard Phillips
Aristarchos of Samos
Catullus, Gaius Valerius
Galilei, Galileo
Time Periods
16th century
Early modern
20th century, late
20th century, early
United States
Soviet Union
Alexandria (Egypt)

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