This is the page that will (by the end of October) hold all of the diagrams of knowledge from my upcoming talk about the history of knowledge structures [preprint]. Suggestions of new material are welcome in the comments, and I plan on continuing to update this page whenever I find a new one. I am particularly interested in non-Western diagrams (and translations if possible!), of which I currently have no examples. This page will also include short contextual descriptions and commentary, but for now it’s just a placeholder for pretty pictures.
It’s worth pointing out that this page is very drafty. Its purpose is to provide examples of illustrations for a forthcoming talk, but it is also quite preliminary, and I haven’t yet done the scholarly work of going back to double check all the original sources. Caveat lector; don’t use the references provided here without double-checking them.
Tree of Knowledge
Section of Paradise by Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1530, depicting the biblical trees of life (left) and knowledge (right).
A genealogical depiction of descendancy from Jesse (father of king David) to Christ, and the origin of the “family tree”.
Porphyry classified Aristotle’s Categories into a series of branching dichotomies, a metaphorical tree, in the third century C.E. By the sixth century at the latest, the metaphorical tree was being illustrated as an actual tree in Latin editions.
Early Scholarly Divisions
The first, an eleventh century manuscript from Italy, separating practical knowledge into ethics, economics, and politics. The second, a twelfth century manuscript separating philosophy into natural, ethical, and rational knowledge, which are each subdivided further.
The Seven Arts
Grammar, rhetoric, logic/dialectic, arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy/astrology. From the twelfth century Hortus Deliciarum.
A thirteenth century philosopher and logician who created many diagrams of interest related to knowledge structures and trees.Llull’s late thirteenth century work actually contained 16 trees of knowledge, with each subject having its own root, trunk, and branches.
Aristotle’s Square of Opposition
From Nicole Oresme’s late fourteenth century translation and commentary of Aristotle, opposing generable and ungenerable with corruptible and incorruptible.
Virtues and Sciences
This fourteenth century dichotomy divides God into virtus (virtue) and scientia, from which the usual suspects branch out and divide further.
A division of the sciences from a fourteenth century manuscript. Sciencia divides into philosophy, eloquence, poetry, and mechanics, and further divides from there.
A fifteenth century student’s study aid, splitting mathematical knowledge into its constituent parts, under which the scribe scribbled relevant books of reference for each branch.
Summa de Arithmetica
Pacioli’s fifteenth century tree of proportions, illustrating the various potential types of proportions (for example, geometric proportions could be continuous or discontinuous, continuous could be rational or irrational, etc.)
A sixteenth century humanist and logician, arguably representing the culmination of the medieval tradition of thinking in dichotomies.
A textbook/encyclopedia from the sixteenth century by Gregor Reisch. The book had many illustrations depicting the organization of knowledge within.
Zwinger’s sixteenth century encyclopedia Theatrum Humanae Vitae was organized into chapters, not in alphabetical order, but according to a diagram of a tree, as below.
John Dee’s ‘Groundplat’ in his 1570 preface to Euclid’s Elements
Full text transcription: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/22062/22062-h/files/groundplat.html
Kircher’s Philosophical tree representing all branches of knowledge, from Ars Magna Sciendi (1669), p. 251.
Various Reconstructed Classifications (sixteenth & seventeenth century)
The various classifications of knowledge in this time period are too numerous to list, however here are a few. The via links provide context.
Though it should need no introduction, this late-eighteenth century encyclopedia by Diderot and d’Alembert included a map of the structure of knowledge held within. Below are a few versions of that map.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge tried his hand at an encyclopedia in the early nineteenth century, and this tree represented the organization of each volume.
H.G. Wells describing how students ought to learn in 1938.
The Map of Physics
Bernard H. Porter’s Map of Physics, placed in a number of contemporary physics textbooks, 1939.