Knowledge Organisation


Kim H. Veltman in collaboration with Eric R. Dobbs

Computers as an Historical Tool for Mathematics, Science and Art

Presented at the annual Leonardo meeting in Brescia in 1991.
Published as an Appendix to: Leonardo's Method, Brescia: Centro Ricerche Leonardiane, 1993.

1. Introduction
2. Animation
3. Alternative Constructions
4. Geometry and Number
5. Play
6. Plans
7. Conclusions

1. Introduction

The quantitative advantages of computers are obvious. They enable access to hitherto unthinkable amounts of knowledge. In terms of historical material this is of great significance because it will make the search for sources (ad fontes) available to individuals who do not have access to the very few remarkable libraries (e.g London, Paris, Vatican, Washington) where this level of research has traditionally taken place. In the foregoing text we have suggested that there is more to this quantitative dimension than sheer numbers of documents or size of databanks. Without such enormous amounts of hitherto scattered materials many questions can scarcely be addressed with any depth: how surveying instruments spread across Europe; what methods they employed; to what extent these methods were supplemented by textual descriptions; to what extent the local variations decreased as individuals became aware that methods developed in Urbino, Nürnberg, or Antwerp could be applied elsewhere; to what extent one can map changing relations between practice and theory? Related to this are questions of how materials can be presented in new ways: to what extent can one use combinations of lists, maps, and images to bring into focus relations among different aspects of knowledge which were hitherto invisible? All these are long term goals.

Meanwhile there are also short term possibilities: computers offer many new qualitative methods for the interpretation of historical material. Rather than attempting an abstract analysis of such methods, this paper focusses on some specific examples in the context of Renaissance art and science which are being explored under the auspices of the Perspective Institute at the McLuhan Centre (University of Toronto). An IBM compatible AT using AUTOCAD 10 in conjunction with D BASE III Plus is being used to make visible in a new way the genesis of perspectival methods from Alberti to Leonardo and demonstrate links with transformational geometry (de ludo geometrico), conic sections, principles of square and cube roots and other aspects of Renaissance mathematics, science and art. The chief characteristics of this approach can be described in terms of animation, alternative constructions; geometry and number as well as play, each of which will be considered in turn.

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