History of astronomical diagrams seminar 2024

Org. Divna Manolova, Scott Trigg, Matthieu Husson

How to attend?  

The seminar is open for online attendance with the following link : Hybrid seminar link

The seminar is open to the public who would like to come in person in Paris Observatory,  Salle du Conseil.  In this case registration is mandatory. Please register by sending an email with the Key “eida-seminar-dates” in object to matthieu.husson@obspm.fr at least 24h in advance of the seminar session you wish to attend. Then 15 min before the seminar time present yourself at the 77 avenue Denfert Rochereau 75014 Paris with an ID document.

All times given for Paris


The seminar will focus on scholarly discussions of the diagrammatic idioms and the ways in which historical actors employ them in a variety of representations, including but not limited to scientific diagrams. We would like to interrogate the graphic conventions diagrams rely on and discuss instances and even types of (dis)similarity that diagrams record and exhibit. We will ask how diagrams operate and do things, but also what categories are used by the actors, on the one hand, and the observers on the other, to reflect on/prescribe what diagrams do and how they do it. Throughout the seminar, we are hoping to learn more about, and engage with, the existing literature on diagram studies in other disciplines, such as ancient mathematics, or art historical approaches to diagrams, visual representations of knowledge, anthropology or philosophy.



The seminar format includes two modes. Most sessions will be organised as reading seminar sessions, namely two chapters / articles will be suggested each time by the person leading the session. A short introduction will be followed by a general discussion. The idea is to select and propose readings that have influenced us in our thinking about diagrams and to establish a corpus of shared references, discourses and vocabulary among EIDA team members. Additionally, we hope some sessions will feature invited speakers, namely colleagues who can work on diagrams from multiple disciplinary perspectives or work on representations of all sorts that we might find inspiring and useful to learn about. Finally, we would be happy to hear from colleagues whose research focuses on the actors’ categories regarding images, representations, and illustrations that were used historically to record and transmit knowledge.

ShareDocs: All readings will be made available via ShareDocs. The folder is called EIDA Diagrams Seminar 2023_24 and should be accessible via this link.

If you require access or lack permissions, please contact us.

EIDA Zotero Bibliography: https://www.zotero.org/groups/4946145/eida-diagrams_literature

If you would like to receive access and be able to contribute to the bibliography, please contact us.



The program is a work in progress, please consult regularly this page for updates!

 17 October 2023, 10:00-12.00

Intro by Divna Manolova


Evans, Michael W. ‘The Geometry of the Mind’. Architectural Association Quarterly 12, no. 4 (1980): 32–55. Accessible online at : https://www.she-philosopher.com/library/evans_Pt2.html

Wallis, Faith. ‘What a Medieval Diagram Shows: A Case Study of Computus’. Studies in Iconography 36 (2015): 1–40.


21 November 2023, 10:00-12.00

Intro by Scott Trigg


Priest, Greg, Silvia De Toffoli, and Paula Findlen. “Tools of Reason: The Practice of Scientific Diagramming from Antiquity to the Present.” Endeavour 42, no. 2-3 (2018): 49-59.

Eastwood, Bruce and Gerd Graßhoff. “Planetary Diagrams – Descriptions, Models, Theories: From Carolingian Deployments to Copernican Debates.” In The Power of Images in Early Modern Science, edited by Wolfgang Lefèvre, Jürgen Renn, and Urs Schoepflin, 197-226. New York: Springer, 2003.


19 December 2023, 15:00-17.00

Intro by Matthieu Husson


Nelson Goodman, Language of arts, an approach to a theory of symbols, Indianapolis, 1968. Chap. 1: ‘Reality remade’, 3-45

Philippe Descola, Les formes du visibles, Paris, 2021. Chap. 1: ‘Les plis du monde’, 21-86


23  January 2024, 15:00-17.00

Intro by Samuel Gessner


John North, ‘Diagram and thought in medieval science’, in Villard’s Legacy: Studies in Medieval Technology, Science and Art in Memory, Marie-Thérèse Zenner ed., London: Routledge, 2017, p. 265-287.

Frederik Stjernfelt, “Diagrams as Centerpiece of a Peircean Epistemology”. Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society  36, no. 3 (2000): 357-384


27  February 2024, 15:00-17.00

Intro by Stefan Zieme


Latour, Bruno. “Visualisation and Cognition: Drawing Things Together.” In H. Kuklick (editor) Knowledge and Society Studies in the Sociology of Culture Past and Present, Jai Press vol. 6 (1986) pp. 1-40.
Marr, Alexander. “Ingenuity in Nuremberg: Dürer and Stabius’s Instrument Prints”, The Art Bulletin, 100:3 (2018): 48-79, https://doi.org/10.1080/00043079.2018.1429745



19  March 2024, 15:00-17.00

Daria Elagina (HLCEES – Hiob Ludolf Centre for Ethiopian and Eritrean Studies, Hamburg)

Diagrams in Ethiopic Manuscripts


Adeline Reynaud (SPHERE)

Impressing, incising, erasing : on the drawing techniques of mathematical diagrams on Old Babylonian clay tablets


21  May 2024, 15:00-17.00

Jeanne Nuechterlein (York), Precision as a concept for interpreting German astronomical instruments and diagrams, c. 1470-1540

Guest on Zoom


18 June 2024, 15:00-17.00 A reading session on “The mind’s eye”

Intro by Stephen Johnston


At the beginning of the seminar, we will briefly revisit one of our earlier readings (first introduced by Stefan), namely

  1. Latour, Bruno. “Visualisation and Cognition: Drawing Things Together.” In H. Kuklick (editor) Knowledge and Society Studies in the Sociology of Culture Past and Present, Jai Press vol. 6 (1986) pp. 1-40.



and juxtapose it with a type of publication we have not discussed before, namely an article written for a wider audience, that is

  1. Adam Zeman, Aphantasia: ten years since I coined the term for lacking a mind’s eye – the journey so far, published in The Conversation in March 2024



We will then conclude with a discussion of 

  1. K. M. Crowther and P. Barker, “Training the Intelligent Eye: Understanding Illustrations in Early Modern Astronomy Texts”, Isis 104.3 (2013), 429-470. DOI: 10.1086/673269



Ninth session: 9 July 2024, 15:00

Fourth guest presentation: Jacob Schmidt-Madsen (Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin), Games Beyond the Grid: Ludic Representations of the Cosmos

Abstract: The history of board games go back more than 5000 years to the Bronze Age civilizations of Egypt, Mesopotamia, and the Indus Valley. Simple diagrams, drawn on the ground or produced as artefacts, functioned as tools for multiple purposes such as calculation, divination, ritual, and play. This talk explores the origin, development, transmission, and usage of board game diagrams from the earliest times to the present. It devotes special attention to games as cosmological models and to how meaning is attributed to the inherently meaningless formal systems of games.

Suggested Readings

Browne, Cameron (2022) Everything’s a Ludeme. Well, Almost Everything. XXIII Board Game Studies Colloquium: The Evolutions of Board Games, April 2021, Paris, France. hal-03737317

Haugeland, John (1985) “Chapter 2: Automatic Formal Systems” in Artificial Intelligence: The Very Idea. Cambridge, Massachusetts and London: MIT Press, pp. 48-84.

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