Humanist Discussion Group

Humanist Archives: July 12, 2022, 7:19 a.m. Humanist 36.101 - the question of scale

              Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 36, No. 101.
        Department of Digital Humanities, University of Cologne
                      Hosted by DH-Cologne
                Submit to:

        Date: 2022-07-11 20:32:45+00:00
        From: Alan Liu <>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 36.100: the question of scale

Dear Willard,

In regard to your thought-question about scale (and the Eames work), I
recommend this recently published book: Zachary K. Horton, *The Cosmic
Zoom: Scale, Knowledge, and Mediation* (Chicago: The University of Chicago
Press, 2021). The book is a mind-stretcher for its combination of concrete
and theoretical explorations of scale as, among other things, a media
concept. The blurb is as follows:

<blurb>In *The Powers of Ten* by Charles and Ray Eames, a view of two
people enjoying a picnic zooms up and away to show their surroundings,
moving progressively farther into space, then zooms back in for a close-up
of the hand of the picnicker, travelling deep into the microscopic realm.
This is one of the most iconic examples of the “cosmic zoom,” a trope that
has influenced countless media forms over the past seventy years.

Horton uses the cosmic zoom as a starting point to develop a
cross-disciplinary theory of scale as mediated difference. He considers the
origins of our notions of scale, how scalar mediation functions differently
in analog and digital modes, and how cosmic zoom media has influenced
scientific and popular views of the world. Analyzing literature, film,
digital media, and database history, Horton establishes a much-needed
framework for thinking about scale across multiple domains and

I recently had Zach back for an event on scale at UCSB (where I worked with
him while he was a Ph.D. student in areas of new media, digital humanities,
and film-making. The event, titled "Matters of Scale in Zooming and
Mapping," featured geographer Francis Harvey. Zach was respondent. The
event description, with an abstract of Harvey's talk, may be of interest:

--Best, Alan

On Mon, Jul 11, 2022 at 12:27 AM Humanist <> wrote:

>               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 36, No. 100.
>         Department of Digital Humanities, University of Cologne
>                       Hosted by DH-Cologne
>                 Submit to:
>         Date: 2022-07-11 07:15:42+00:00
>         From: Willard McCarty <>
>         Subject: the question of scale
> The work of Charles and Ray Eames (who designed the IBM Pavillion for
> the 1964 World's Fair in New York) has led me to wonder how the question
> of scale affects our understanding of digital research. In 1977 they
> made a film, Powers of Ten, based on Kees Boeke's Cosmic Views: The
> Universe in Forty Jumps (1957); later the Eames' collaborators, Philip
> and Phylis Morrison, in turn made a book based on the film, Powers of
> Ten: About the Relative Size of Things in the Universe (1982). All this
> is available either on the Internet Archive or via
> The calligrapher Edward Johnston wrote that "size is absolute". This is
> one of the lessons I take also from Boeke's, the Eames' and the
> Morrison's work. My question, then, is how this 'absolute' difference
> applies across the range of computational phenomena, from the
> quantum-level of the microprocessor, through the 'levels of abstraction'
> in a computing system, to the results of computational stylistics, say,
> and beyond that to GPT-3 and its kind, AlphaGo Zero and so on.
> Some (micro/macroscopic) speculative help here?
> Yours,
> WM
> --
> Willard McCarty,
> Professor emeritus, King's College London;
> Editor, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews;  Humanist

Unsubscribe at:
List posts to:
List info and archives at at:
Listmember interface at:
Subscribe at: