Friday Finds: Dictionaries

Today’s Friday Finds were inspired by An Illustrated Handbook of Art History by Frank J. Roos, Jr, originally part of Martin S. Kermacy’s library.  The binding of the book attracted my attention. It was bound with a large spiral wire like a school notebook, so there was no indication on the spine as to what the book might be.

When I opened it, I was surprised to discover page after page of black and white images with only captions as text.  The images were easily recognizable, reflecting the material common to the introductory survey course. And I thought: Oh, ARTstor before ARTstor. Roos writes of his intention: The aim of this Handbook is to put in the hands of students useful illustrations of as many works of art, together with reference charts, as can be encompassed in the covers of a book selling for a comparatively low price. (i) He continues then to discuss the selection process: The choice of men and examples constituting the Modern section was particularly difficult. Although there are as many men of great importance left out as included, the choice of names to be considered was here guided by the necessity of using men typical of certain trends and by the availability of material. (i) The use of the word, men, struck me particularly. The work was published in 1937 – I was not sure if men was intended as the catch all term (though could artist not be used as effectively?) or if women had not been included in the narrative at all (a quick look told me that Cassatt and O’Keeffe were).

All of that led me to wonder about representation, selection, the communication of ideas, and well, dictionaries. What were architectural dictionaries like before The Pevsner (I recently made the decision to part with my second copy)? I think we could usefully reflect on the dictionaries as historical artifacts that speak to cultural constructs, practice, audiences, and use.

Parker, John Henry. A Glossary of Terms Used in Grecian, Roman, Italian, and Gothic Architecture. Exemplified by One Hundred and Fifty Wood-Cuts. London: Charles Tilt, 1836.

Nicholson, Peter. Nicholson’s Dictionary of the Science and Practice of Architecture, Building, Carpentry, etc., etc., etc., from the Earliest Ages to the Present Time. Edited by Edward Lomax and Thomas Gunyon.  London: The London Print. and Pub. Co., [1854].

The Architectural Publication Society. The Dictionary of Architecture. London: Thomas Richards, 1887.

Sample Page, The Dictionary of Architecture

A Dictionary of the Leading Technical and Trade Terms of Architectural Design and Building Construction. By the Editor of The Technical Journal. London: Ward, Lock & Co., 1888.