Commenting on his famous work Le Penseur, or The Thinker, a century ago, the French sculptor Auguste Rodin described his subject in terms of its utter (masculine) physicality. “What makes my Thinker think is that he thinks not only with his brain, with his knitted brow, his distended nostrils and compressed lips, but with every muscle of his arms, back, and legs, with his clenched fist and gripping toes.”1 Rodin’s corporeal Thinker embodies the tension between thought and action, spirit and body. It reminds us that thought and knowledge are crafted not only in one’s mind but though ones actions and experiences. Moreover, one’s physical existence impacts how one interacts with the world, how this knowledge is formed, and how it becomes manifest, that is, how one displays and conveys it.
The handwriting on this fascinating image taken inside the British Museum Library, ca. 1906, reads, “More than forty miles of shelves, two millions of books, and ‘of the making … is no end.’” The accompanying summary at the Library of Congress appears to get something wrong, however: “Photograph shows the book stacks in the reading room of the British Museum library, London, England.” This scene shows an important aspect of this library’s support for reading and research, but it should not be mistaken for part of a reading room.
This vocational film is interesting in a few different ways, including for its normative gender roles.
Here are the photographs from which the current selection of randomized header images on this blog were drawn. All of these images are housed at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. What do these photographs have to do with the history of knowledge? What stories do they tell? What questions do they raise?
(Click on the individual images to enlarge and for their captions and credits.)