Mindmapping: Diagrams in the Middle Ages – and Beyond
Paper given by Jeffrey Hamburger
Delivered at the Mahindra Humanities Center, Harvard University on 28 September 2017
Diagrams are ubiquitous. There is the mandala, for example, used in Buddhist meditation. Or the mandorla, used in Byzantine and Western Christian iconography. But we don’t have to go so far afield. One can recall, for example, the seductive symmetry of diagrams from school textbooks. In recent decades, computers have allowed us to turn many kinds of data into visual representations, including 3D imaging.
If we think of diagrams as techniques of visualisation that give order to knowledge and perception, then the Middle Ages have a special claim on our attention, because much of its art is diagramatic. We might be tempted to dismiss diagrams as a convenience, perhaps visually interesting, but still a tool that recedes into the background behind more pressing questions. But, as this talk demonstrates, the topic opens up into more philosophical and aesthetic questions, such as, ‘What is an image?’
Jeffrey Hamburger is Professor of German Art and Culture at Harvard University.