24 January 2012

Hood's interactive educational instruments

"Many Elizabethan mathematical books had instruments that could be assembled from paper cutouts on their pages. Thomas Hood took these pedagogical examples to heart and in 1597 constructed a vellum instrument from four diagrams that illustrated the theoretical and practical aspects of astrology. Hood found a way, through the manipulation of ingenious revolving gears and overlays mounted on vellum and pinned together, to illustrate in one view the relationship between plants, the signs of the zodiac, and the parts of the human body they governed. Much like a mdoern PowerPoint or overhead projector transparency, Hood's instrument was a pedagogical display intended to facilitate efficient and effective education by encouraging his students to actually manipulate an instrument." (Deborah Harkness, The Jewel House: Elizabethan London and the Scientific Revolution)

[Terrible scan of Hood's instruments, MS Additional 71495 (British Library), from the image printed in Harkness's book. Permission not asked; despite the instruments having been scanned for the book, there appears to be no digital copies available through the BL's digital collections. Consider this grainy image my plea to make the high-res scan available to researchers.]

This paper instrument was assembled wrong when it was "discovered" at the British Library in 1994 (Stephen Johnston, "The astrological instruments of Thomas Hood").

Hood's instruments remind me of the twentieth-century educational volvelles Jessica Helfand displays in Reinventing the Wheel.

In the book quoted above, Harkness points out that vernacular mathematics instruction became popular during Elizabeth's reign -- it was advertised on streets, taught in informal classes at home, discussed in public lectures and aided by pedagogical instruments like Thomas Hood's. Interestingly, many of the twentieth-century educational volvelles Helfand catalogues are also functional advertisements for domestic products like bread and iceboxes. The history of paper volvelles weaves in and out of the history of democratizing -- and commercializing -- education.

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