Digital culture may have begotten the obsolescence of the art of letter-writing, but it has also spurred the less obvious demise of various other communication arts — from travel posters to library ads to the entertainment program guide and its vibrant, attention-grabbing cover designs. Take, for instance, these beautiful archival covers of Radio Times, the weekly UK radio and television program listing magazine affiliated with the BBC: Created between the 1930s and 1970s, these gems — many of them Christmas-themed — present a stunning time-capsule of vintage design and typography for an artifact that has since dropped out of cultural relevance, and a reminder that technological and aesthetic sensibilities evolve along parallel axes.
“The times are so serious that even children should be made to understand that there are vital differences in people’s beliefs which lead to differences in behavior.”
By Maria Popova
As a lover of children’s books, especially vintage ones, I was delighted to find out that beginning in the 1930s, Eleanor Roosevelt — beloved First Lady, dedicated humanitarian, writer of controversial love letters, timeless philosopher — penned a series of books aimed at young readers, discussing various social and political issues, from voting to international relations. In 1940, in the midst of a grim holiday season marred by the realities of WWII and the Nazi occupation of Europe, she penned Christmas: A Story (public library) — the tale of a little Dutch girl named Martha, who struggles to find meaning, love, and peace in a world of destruction and uncertainty after her father, Jon, is killed in the war.
The original edition, now long out of print, features illustrations by German graphic designer and artist Fritz Kredel, who was later commissioned to create a woodcut of the Presidential Seal for John F. Kennedy’s inauguration.
The light in the window must be the dream which holds us all until we ultimately win back to the things for which Jon died and for which Marta and her mother were living.
In the introduction, Roosevelt articulates something all the more prescient in the wake of recent tragedies:
The times are so serious that even children should be made to understand that there are vital differences in people’s beliefs which lead to differences in behavior.
Though the Christ Child plays a central role in Christmas: A Story as a source of hope and solace for little Martha, the religious elements are more of an allegory for Roosevelt’s philosophical message: That we don’t need to seek permission to believe in goodness, even in the face of evil, and that, as Stanley Kubrick famously put it nearly three decades later, “however vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.”
It appears that no great diagram is solely authored by its creator. Most of those described here were the culmination of centuries of accumulated knowledge. Most arose from collaboration (and oftentimes in competition) with others. Each was a product and a reflection of its unique cultural, historical and political environment. Each represented specific preoccupations, interests, and stake holders.
The great diagrams depicted in the book form the basis for many fields — art, astronomy, cartography, chemistry, mathematics, engineering, history, communications, particle physics, and space travel among others. More often than not, however, their creators — mostly known, but many lost to time — were polymaths who are creating new technologies or breakthroughs by drawing from a potent combination of disciplines. By applying trigonometric methods to the heavens, or by harnessing the movement of the sun and the planets to keep time, they were forging powerful new tools; their diagrams were imbued with synergy.
Christianson offers a definition:
From the latin diagramma (figure) from Greek, a figure worked out b lines, plan, from diagraphein, from graphein to write.
First known use of the word: 1619.
A plan, a sketch, drawing, outline, not necessarily representational, designed to demonstrate or explain something or clarify the relationship existing between the parts of the whole.
In mathematics, a graphic representation of an algebraic or geometric relationship. A chart or graph.
A drawing or plan that outlines and explains the parts, operation, etc. of something: a diagram of an engine.
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