“Visual Agency in Euclid’s Elements: a study of the transmission of visual knowledge”
Through investigation of diagrams in Euclid’s Elements, this dissertation aims to study how visual knowledge has been transmitted. While past scholarship understood the transmission of diagrams as a perceptual process (conducted through textual instruction and archetype diagrams), this dissertation examines both the perceptual process and the conceptual process (through visual agency). I explore the Visual agency as an autonomous function of diagram makers to draw according to their discretion. According to the history of the Elements, I classify diagram makers who held visual agency into four groups: scribes, translators, readers, and printers. These four types of visual agents interpreted and reinterpreted diagrams over time: 1) scribes corrected diagrams mathematically and systematized them visually; 2) translators filtered the variants of diagrams and invented derivatives of diagrams; 3) readers expanded and proofread mathematical ideas through diagrams; 4) printing presses standardized diagrams and enhanced pedagogical value of them. This analysis of visual agencies leads us to a more comprehensive understanding of the transmission of diagrams: the transmission as an autonomous and knowledge-conducive process. In this way the project serves to explore the complex transmission of visual knowledge latent beneath the surface of textual transmission.
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