Friday, December 09, 2016

Standing reserve

John Dower's Comparative Lengths of the Principal Rivers, and the Heights of the Principal Mountains of the World is a remarkable example of what we now celebrate as "data visualization": the world's highest mountains and longest rivers (as known in Europe in 1832), displayed for easy comparison. The nested triangles rising to the perfect isosceles at center represent continents: Asia, America, Europe, Africa and, er, the British Isles. I learned about this diagram from a lovely new book I'm likely to use in next semester's class, Veronica della Dora's Mountain: Nature and Culture (Reaktion/Chicago, 2016), 25. But if stacking up massive mountains is sort of funny, there's something awful about the dangling rivers arrayed above them, like the uncoiled bodies of snakes. 

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