The Transit of Venus: From archive to wall in 25 steps

In 2012, I observed the Transit of Venus at the American Philosophical Society (APS) in Philadelphia. The APS was around for an earlier Transit, specifically the one in 1769, when they set up three temporary viewing sites and formed a committee, headed by astronomer, clockmaker, and craftsman, David Rittenhouse, to record this significant event. Those scientific observations, including an incredibly beautiful scientific drawing, were published in APS’s first volume: Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, Held at Philadelphia, for Promoting Useful Knowledge. Happily, you can find that volume in its entirety here:

If the above embed won’t load, try this direct link here.

You can NOT, however, see the image I remembered and wanted- if you scroll down to just below page 27 in the Google scan, you can see a tiny fragment of the corner, some lines, and just make out “Reduced to this Scale by” … that’s it. The paper was folded- it fits into the volume folded up, and then the reader is supposed to unfold it to see the full image. Scanners aren’t good at unfolding.

Fragment of the Transit of Venus document from 1769 showing that the drawing is folded up and not completely scanned
Well that’s… part of it. Source: https://books.google.com/books?id=-jwLAAAAIAAJ&lpg=PP1&pg=PA28#v=onepage&q&f=false
Fragment of the Transit of Venus document from 1769
1/36 of the whole thing or so. Source: https://books.google.com/books?id=-jwLAAAAIAAJ&lpg=PP1&pg=PA28#v=onepage&q&f=false

So, I like Philadelphia, I had good memories of observing the Transit in 2012, and I wanted a copy of the drawing on my wall. I knew the document existed, but how to get a good copy of it? The best version I could find was on the New York Time’s website, here.

Scan of the Transit of Venus, 1769, badly creased
Source: http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2012/05/29/science/space/20120529-VENUS/s/20120529_VENUS-slide-EPL8.html

But it’s a small image that doesn’t scale well, and the folds are very obvious.

The good news is I could go to the source. The APS continues to thrive and is “open to all researchers who demonstrate a need to use the unique resources under its care.” (APS)

So, here we go! Here’s how I was able to obtain a massive, couch-sized print of the Transit of Venus, as observed by David Rittenhouse and other members of the American Philosophical Society in 1769, in 25 steps:

  1. Decide you want this
  2. Contact the American Philosophical Society using the information available here: https://www.amphilsoc.org/library
  3. Wait
  4. Contact APS again, politely
  5. Live your life
  6. Hear from the APS hooray! and find out from intrepid Reference Archivist, Earle E. Spamer, that they don’t exactly have a high-density digital image- the New York Times image came from a digitized 4X5 transparency, and the plate they have is both too big and too delicate to scan. The good news is they can re-scan the 4X5, would that work?
  7. Email back, yes, definitely! Register online to use the American Philosophical Society Library (i.e. pay for the requested document copy) and send APS confirmation that it’s done, thank them and say something like “Please let me know if you need any additional information and/or what my next steps should be.”
  8. Wait. Live your life.
  9. Success! You now have the digital file through Aeon, and thanks to your (stubbornness) patience, they are waiving the cost.
  10. Exult in the beauty of scientific inquiry and observation. Feel grateful for the people who are curious, who share, and who like to preserve things.
  11. Speaking of which, make a backup. Make two.
  12. Meet up with your incredibly talented conservation photographer friend who is available for interesting work.
  13. Hours of editing (thank you Mae Belle) result in an edited TIFF and two JPEGs with the layers flattened.
  14. Make backups of the edited files.
  15. Go to Staples to use their large format printer: oops your gigantic file crashes their computer.
  16. Back to your computer, reload the USB stick with only the JPEG, not the TIFF
  17. Back to Staples, print file on Paper/HP Universal Bond Paper 20lb 36×48 / Standard / Large Format Print (Precut Size) / Color / Simplex
  18. Home, center couch against far wall of apartment
  19. Find center of the couch, line up with the center of the print
  20. Find height you want
  21. Find two binder clips and two thumbtacks
  22. Put thumbtacks in
  23. Attach binder clips
  24. Hang
  25. Ah 🙂

Earle E. Spamer was an enormous help throughout this process- being a reference archivist is not an easy job, and this request in particular had some unexpected twists and turns-

I’m especially grateful for his willingness to scan the document at an incredibly high resolution- large scans like this take time and might not even work, so it’s much appreciated.

Laura Webb holding the final print of the enlarged Transit of Venus scan from 1769
Success!

Authors have written about recipes connecting generations- making something your grandmother has made, for example. I feel the same way about observing scientific phenomena- the transit of Venus, the Perseids, Leonids, Geminids; it means something to observe a phenomenon that has caught the attention of people hundreds of years ago and will go on for thousands more. By taking time and observing it, you’re immediately connected with a world-wide community of curious adventurers- past and present.

And there can be surprises along the way! Reading through the digitized Transactions, I noticed that their (men-only, sadly) members are listed alphabetically- is there a Webb among them? Yes 🙂 And he’s from Lancaster- the same city my grandparents are from….

Page from the Transactions first Volume, showing a James Webb as member
Source:
https://books.google.com/books?id=-jwLAAAAIAAJ&lpg=PA101&dq=transit%20of%20venus%20providence&pg=PR1#v=onepage&q&f=false

Persistence, curiosity, and stars- some of my favorite things-

2017 in numbers

Speaker tags for Laura Webb at DjangoCon, Strangeloop, and ELAConf
2017, speaking

2017 in numbers:

6+

Conferences
PyCon: Volunteered
DjangoCon: Spoke
!!con: Contributed a lego set
Barcamp: Volunteered
ELAconf: Spoke
Strangeloop: Spoke

2

Hackathons
Philadelphia Museum of Art: Organizer
LadyHacks: Organizer

4

Books read (estimate)
Not as many as I would like- 2018 will include a lot more reading

1

Linux laptop. I love it. Clean and fast!

1

Concert, Gorillaz

26.5

Hair length, inches

338

Days meditated in a row

1

Job that I quit

1

Job that I started

4

Ice-skating lessons. More to come 🙂

Image showing how many days meditated in a row. The only one left is the 365 badge
Current Headspace run streak- meditation and coffee contributed a lot to the list above
Laura Webb standing in front of the Pike Place Starbucks store with an espresso
What would my 2017 be without coffee! My first trip to Seattle included the Pike Place Starbucks and a delicious espresso.

I find myself at a bit of a loss for words- 2017 was an unexpected year in a lot of ways. Throughout it all though, people around me were kind, interesting, encouraging, inspiring, challenging, and funny 🙂 thank you and here’s to 2018!

A reading list for 2018, with many thanks to Modern Mrs. Darcy

Instagram picture announcing the 2018 Reading Challenge
The 2018 Reading Challenge. Source: https://www.instagram.com/p/Bcr_rqVlYpZ/?taken-by=annebogel

“I should read more” “I should read that” “I should have already read that” So many shoulds- how effective are they? I’m aware of the punitive and unfun nature of “shoulds.” It doesn’t matter if they’re well-meaning, would be beneficial, and/or just need to happen. A “should” is both an impetus and a stalling mechanism. You should but you aren’twhat’s stopping you?

For me lists help. They help by providing a path, momentum, progress, and other intangibles. Along those lines and with many thanks to the Modern Mrs. Darcy, I’ll be participating in the 2018 Reading Challenge, which you can join: here

Share your picks and follow along using these hashtags by @annebogel: #IdRatherBeReading, #MMDchallenge, and #MMDreading 

I had a lot of fun looking for books for each category and I encourage you to make your own list. Along those lines, I thought of six more categories- that would bring the total to 18 books in 2018, if you like.

The 2018 Reading Challenge categories are:
1. A classic you’ve been meaning to read:
2. A book recommended by someone with great taste:
3. A book in translation:
4. A book nominated for an award in 2018:
To find this pick I used: This Twitter search
5. A book of poetry, a play, or an essay collection:
6. A book you can read in a day:
7. A book that’s more than 500 pages:
8. A book by a favorite author:
9. A book recommended by a librarian or indie bookseller: (I’m broadening this to include “recommended by a podcast host”)
10. A banned book:
To find this pick I used: This Wikipedia resource
11. A memoir, biography, or book of creative nonfiction:
12. A book by an author of a different race, ethnicity, or religion than your own:

My additional category prompts are:
13. A book about a talent you admire- For example, drumming, photography, dance- (and a strong nudge to try it yourself).
14. An illustrated book- Extra credit move: pick a page from it and make your own drawing, post it to Twitter, thank the artist, and include a link so that others can buy the book.
15. A book that addresses a source of pain connected to your family- For example, understanding dysfunction, abandonment, alcoholism- How would you benefit from acknowledging something and being reminded that you’re not alone in your experience?
16. A cookbook- Yes, read it. Don’t just look at the pictures, don’t cherry-pick the easy bits, read it the whole way through- look at how it’s organized, the steps and the tips, what ingredients are included, how times in life are connected to certain foods- festive desserts, refreshing breakfasts, nourishing lunches, and more.
17. A book written before 1500- Extra credit move- who translated it? What can you learn about them? Their context, motivations, strengths, and restrictions?
Stumped? Check out: This GoodReads link here
18. A book you’re embarrassed to admit you want to read- Whatever you are intrigued by but also consider cheesy- be it self-help, young adult fiction, romance novel- whatever! Life is too short to only stick to the Great Classical Works of Yore.

Here are the books I’ll be reading this year, using the prompt list from the wonderful Modern Mrs. Darcy to start and adding 6 more of my own to bring it to 18 in 2018:

  1. A classic you’ve been meaning to read:
    Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu, Gia-Fu Feng (Specifically the translation by Ursula K Le Guin yassss)
  2. A book recommended by someone with great taste:
    The Well of Ascension (Mistborn, #2), Brandon Sanderson
  3. A book in translation:
    Invisible Planets: Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in Translation Ken Liu (Editor, Translator), Chen Qiufan, Xia Jia, Ma Boyong, Hao Jingfang, Tang Fei, Cheng Jingbo, Liu Cixin
  4. A book nominated for an award in 2018: To find this pick I used: This Twitter search and picked
    Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean’s Most Fearless Scientist, Jess Keating
  5. A book of poetry, a play, or an essay collection:
    My Dearest Hurricane: Love and Things that Looked like It, Morgan Nikola-Wren
  6. A book you can read in a day:
    The More of Less: Finding the Life You Want Under Everything You Own, Joshua Becker
  7. A book that’s more than 500 pages:
    Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel
  8. A book by a favorite author:
    Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Newt Scamander (Pseudonym), J.K. Rowling, Albus Dumbledore (Foreword)
  9. A book recommended by a librarian or indie bookseller: (I’m broadening this to include “recommended in a podcast”)
    The Art of Money: A Life-Changing Guide to Financial Happiness, Bari Tessler
  10. A banned book: To find this pick I used: This Wikipedia resource and choose
    The Lottery, Shirley Jackson
  11. A memoir, biography, or book of creative nonfiction:
    Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, Mindy Kaling
  12. A book by an author of a different race, ethnicity, or religion than your own:
    Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng
  13. My additional category choices are:

  14. A book about a talent you admire:
    Ice Skating Basics, Aaron Foeste
  15. An illustrated book:
    Flotsam, David Wiesner
  16. A book that addresses a source of pain connected to your family:
    Emotional Blackmail: When the People in Your Life Use Fear, Obligation, and Guilt to Manipulate You, Susan Forward, Donna Frazier
  17. A cookbook:
    The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook: From Cauldron Cakes to Knickerbocker Glory–More Than 150 Magical Recipes for Wizards and Non-Wizards Alike, Dinah Bucholz
  18. A book written before 1500:
    The Odyssey, Homer, specifically the new translation by Emily Wilson
  19. A book you’re embarrassed to admit you want to read:
    The Adventures of Samurai Cat, Mark E. Rogers

Well, those are my picks! Read what you want, enjoy what you read, and have an excellent 2018~

and buy this book- doesn’t it look great?

SharkLady book
The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean’s Most Fearless Scientist. Written by Jess Keating, illustrated by‎ Marta Alvarez Miguens