The Original ‘App’: Paper Volvelles

By Emily Miranker, Events and Project Manager

Nowadays, “there’s an app for that” for nearly any question or need you might possibly have –not to mention needs you didn’t even know you had. What you might not realize is that apps –in the sense of a handheld device for manipulating data- are hundreds of years old.[1]

Meet the ancestor of your smartphone apps: the volvelle, sometimes called a wheel chart. It’s a (brilliantly) simple paper construction of moving parts; layers of rotating discs with information on them. Externalized, artificial data memory before the printing press, steam power, photography, electricity, ether anesthesia, radar, cars, the internet and wifi. Wow.

Gadgets for working with data are even older than paper volvelles. Think of the astrolabe, which had dials that measured the angle of the sun, allowing you to determine accurate time. Useful as an astrolabe was, it was very fine metalwork and, therefore, expensive. Paper devices were a more economical idea.

Two views of an astronomical volvelle from Federici Chrisogno’s De modo collegiandi pronosticandi et curandi febres (1528). Chrisogno was among the first to posit that the cause of tides was connected to the moon and the sun.[2] Note among the exquisite details the tiny human faces on the sun and moon orbs (in the edges of the top two discs) and the delicate astrological symbols (around the outer disc’s rim).

Like many scientific innovations, volvelles came to Europe from the Arabic world during the 11th and 12th centuries in medicinal and astronomical works.[3] One of the earliest extant volvelles was created by Ramon Llull from Majorca (modern day Spain) in his Ars Magna published in 1305. His volvelle, “The Night Sphere,” could be used to calculate the time at night by aligning the device with the pole star –exact times being important to him for knowing the most auspicious times to administer medicine.[4] Incidentally, the European adoption of this useful device is reflected in the name we have for it, volvelle, from the Latin volvere meaning “to turn.” The scope of information that volvelles depict is huge. Besides astronomy, subjects include: verb conjugations, color wheels, metric conversions, fortune-telling, first-aid techniques, and local seasonal foods (such as in the modern example below).

Local Foods Wheel

The Local Foods Wheel, New York Metro Area; 2015.

Some volvelle constructions can get very elaborate in form, like this unusual and entertaining piece in our collection, The Bodyscope (1948), by Ralph H. Segal and Theodore I. Segal, with illustrations by William Brown McNett. It is a color-lithographed, interactive anatomical chart designed for the educated lay public. When opened, the chart displays a male figure on the left and a female figure on the right, surrounded by skeletons and muscle men. Each of the large figures houses a volvelle that, when rotated, displays five different views of the internal organs. Additional cut-outs on the front and back of the chart also change as the volvelles move to display additional views of various body parts and systems.

bodyscope_1948_front_watermark

The Bodyscope (1948) by Ralph H. Segal and Theodore I. Segal, with illustrations by William Brown McNett.

Inspired by volvelles in our collections, we’ve gotten creative for the upcoming Museum Mile Festival, Tuesday June 13 from 6-9pm along Fifth Avenue. It’s a delightful cultural block party; seven museums are open for free, and there are special crafts and performances. An evening you won’t want to miss! Especially since we’ve created a DIY volvelle for festival goers to make for themselves.

Our volvelle feature male and female bodies created by the highly influential Dutch physician and anatomist, Andreas Vesalius, for De Humani Corpis Fabrica (1543). The Fabrica was groundbreaking not only for its artistry, but for its promotion of learning about human anatomy through dissection. Understanding of the human body had been dominated in the West since the third century by the work of the Greek anatomist Galen, who performed animal dissection. Vesalius’ work on cadavers revealed anatomical errors in Galen’s work and pushed medical knowledge forward.

Our DIY volvelles let you deepen your own anatomical knowledge by adding in human organs (from the well-known Gray’s Anatomy) and anatomy facts of your choice. See you at the Festival!

Acknowledgments:
Special thanks to Anne Garner for information on The Bodyscope, and the Library extends our gratitude to Harlem Artist & Craftsman for the generous donation of supplies for the Festival.

References:
[1] Adam Rothstein. The Original Mobile App was Made of Paper. Retrieved from https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/the-earliest-mobile-apps.
[2] Federico Bonelli, Lucio Russo. The Origin of Modern Astronomical Theories of Tides: Chrisogno, de Dominis and Their Sources. The British Journal for the History of Science. 1996; 29 (4): 385-401.
[3] David Kahn. On the Origin of Polyalphabetic Substitution. Isis. 1980, 71 (1): 122-127.
[4] Rheagan Martin. Decoding the Medieval volvelle. Retrieved from http://blogs.getty.edu/iris/decoding-the-medieval-volvelle/. Accessed March 14, 2017.

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Get Crafty at the Museum Mile Festival on June 14

By Emily Miranker, Project Coordinator

When my office is perfumed by the smell of crayons and stocked with boxes of jumbo-sized sidewalk chalk, I know its Museum Mile Festival time. This year’s Museum Mile Festival takes place on Tuesday, June 14 from 6:00-9:00 pm, rain or shine.

Museum Mile (New York City’s Fifth Avenue from 82nd to 105th Street, which is technically three blocks longer than a mile) is one of the densest cultural stretches in the world.1 For the last 38 years, Fifth Avenue closes to traffic for a few hours on an early June evening. The eight major museums and their neighbors–that’s us!–throw open their doors and spill out onto the street in a block party.

Museum Mile at the New York Academy of Medicine. Courtesy of the Academy's Communications Office.

Museum Mile at the New York Academy of Medicine. Courtesy of the Academy’s Communications Office.

The first festival was held in 1979, the brainchild of the Museum Mile Association, to increase cultural audiences and garner support for the arts in time of great fiscal crisis in the city. The festival has since brought many New Yorkers and tourists to upper Fifth Avenue for the first time, and total attendance over the years has surpassed one million visitors.

Besides free admission to the museums along the mile, street performers, chalk drawing, live bands, balloons, and family-friendly activities abound. Dedicated to improving the health and well-being of people living in cities, the Academy has partners from the East Harlem Asthma Center of Excellence and Shape Up NYC joining us for the evening.

Getting physical with our community partners at Museum Mile. Courtesy of the Academy's Communications Office.

Getting physical with our community partners at Museum Mile. Courtesy of the Academy’s Communications Office.

The Library has planned some special crafts for the festival. We have the perennial favorite: coloring pages based on images from our collections. Feel free to download your own pages any time from #ColorOurCollections online.

Coloring sheets fro the New York Academy of Medicine Library. Photo: Emily Miranker.

Coloring sheets from the New York Academy of Medicine Library. Photo: Emily Miranker.

Among the treasures of our collection are the anatomical flap books. These are detailed anatomical illustrations superimposed so that lifting the sheets reveals the anatomy and systems of the body as they would appear during dissection. We created a simple DIY version of a flapbook inspired by these remarkable figures from the 1559 edition of Geminus’ Compendiosa totius anatomiae delineatio, aere exarata. The sheets are quite delicate, so it’s rare to see intact versions like this 400 years after they were made. Make your own flapbook with us during the festival.

Male flap anatomy from The Academy's copy of the 1559 English edition of Geminus’ Compendiosa.

Male flap anatomy from The Academy’s copy of the 1559 English edition of Geminus’ Compendiosa.

Female flap anatomy from The Academy's copy of the 1559 English edition of Geminus’ Compendiosa.

Female flap anatomy from The Academy’s copy of the 1559 English edition of Geminus’ Compendiosa.

Make this flap anatomy craft with us at Museum Mile! Photo: Emily Miranker.

Make this flap anatomy craft with us at Museum Mile! Photo: Emily Miranker.

And there’s nothing like using your own body to create art—finger print art!2

Make fingerprint art with us at Museum Mile! Photo: Emily Miranker.

Make fingerprint art with us at Museum Mile! Photo and artwork: Emily Miranker.

We look forward to seeing you at Museum Mile!

References

1. “Museums on the Mile.” Internet Archive Wayback Machine (June 2011). Accessed June 3, 2016. https://web.archive.org/web/20120101013336/http://www.museummilefestival.org/museums/

2. “Fingerprint Fun.” Bookmaking with Kids (June 2010). Accessed June 6, 2016. http://www.bookmakingwithkids.com/?p=1826

Coloring Our Collections

Coloring books and oranges, waiting for the start of the Museum Mile Festival.

Coloring books and oranges, waiting for the start of the Museum Mile Festival.

At last night’s Museum Mile Festival, we were thrilled to offer a coloring book featuring images from our collections, along with the oranges seen here and packets of crayons.

NYAM also partnered with community organizations to engage the festival participants in healthy eating and active living activities. Harlem Seeds demonstrated how to cook a healthy and delicious kale salad and baked apple dessert. Harlem Hospital Center’s Walk it Out and Hip Hop Public Health programs got the crowd moving with high-energy kickboxing, line dancing, and break dancing lessons.

While we can’t give you crayons or break dancing lessons through our blog, we can offer you the coloring book in PDF format. You can color images from Leonhart Fuchs’ De historia stirpium commentarii insignes . . . (1542);  Ulisse Aldrovandi’s Serpentum, et draconum historiae libri duo (1640); and two works by Konrad Gesner, Conradi Gesneri medici Tigurini Historiæ animalium Lib. I. de quadrupedibus uiuiparis . . . (1551) and Thierbuch das is ein kurtze b[e]schreybung aller vierfüssigen thiern so/ auff der erdē und in wasseren wonend/ sampt irer waren conterfactur . . . (1563).

We’d love to see your colored pages—please share them with us!