The Backbone of Knowledge Diffusion

by simpaole on October 26, 2016 - 2:02pm

Empirical observations

I had the chance to briefly analyse William Cheselden’s work, “Osteographia, or The Anatomy of the Bone”. This book, published in 1733, surprisingly has enormous dimensions. This book is about one foot and a half long and one-foot-wide, which could be compared to a big photo album or a pillow. The book may have the volume of a pillow, but it certainly does not have its weight. Cheselden’s work was as heavy as a newborn. The cover page was red burgundy and was decorated with a fancy golden frame. The fifty pages of Cheselden’s book are filled of page wide illustrations of bones and skeletons in addition of texts explaining these detailed illustrations. The animal and human bones illustrated in this book seemed to be life size, which explains the tremendous dimensions of his book. They used a serif typeface for all the writing, meaning that the end of each letter was attached by a small line. The book conveys the impression of being very used because of the numerous dents on the binding. Watermarks were present and also, the vast majority of the drawings started to detain on the precedent page. Even with that said, this book, written in English, is still considered to be very well preserved considering it almost celebrated its 300-year-old birthday.


This book is primarily focused on human and animal bones. Cheselden used many sizeable illustrations to clearly express his discoveries. Experts today still use illustrations to describe the human body however these illustrations are usually more precise, accurate and pleasing for the eye (colour). In other words, illustrations are still used in medicine to share knowledge, but these illustrations evolved through time with the help of technology and new discoveries. Gutenberg’s invention was primordial to the diffusion of Cheselden’s book. The invention of printing permitted the book, “Osteographia, or The Anatomy of the Bone” to be read and analyzed by countless doctors, noblemen and specialists. It would have been impossible for scribes to copy the numerous life size illustrations of the book. The transition form script to print favoured the spread of Cheselden’s ideas and research. This book was written in the vernacular, which contributed to the wide influence of the book. Also, the many illustrations permitted the book to be accessible and understandable to a larger public. Today, books are still used to spread ideas. Libraries are an unequalled source of knowledge and priceless information. Yet, we developed new technologies that allow us to diffuse information more quickly and to make it available to more people. The Internet is an incredible platform to diffuse knowledge across the whole world. The majority of the world has access to the Internet therefore; is exposed to millions of different texts about medicine. Thanks to the Internet, a simple research on human bones can conclude to an incredible number of diverse images and texts related to bones. A new way to disseminate knowledge inevitably comes with new features. Printing, for example, developed the industry of book production by adding woodcuts, engravings and many more improvements. The recent technologies gave birth to the realization of videos. Informative videos are a new and efficient feature of knowledge diffusion provided by the Internet. Videos are useful for the spreading of knowledge since they can show a different perspective of a subject in addition of making information more accessible to people. On the other hand, the Internet is not, as many of us think, an impeccable way of diffusing knowledge. Since everyone can write things on the Internet, the credibility and accuracy of certain texts can be questioned. In conclusion, the shift from script to print to screen helped knowledge to be shared easier, faster and to a wider public.

Works cited

Elizabeth Eisenstein, “Defining the Initial Shift,” The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe, 2nd Edition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005): 13-45.

William Cheselden, “Osteographia, or The Anatomy of the Bone,” (London, 1733)



Let me begin with how incredibly interesting the picture is! Imagine: this picture was drawn by hand and yet the detail and accuracy of the drawing is remarkable. I was most intrigued by your comment towards the shift from books to the Internet seen in our generation. This is a major difference between the dissemination of knowledge in the early modern period compared to the dessimination of knowledge today. You mention that information on the Internet is not always to be trusted since many people can write whatever they wish, causing certain information to be non credible. I think this is true. This leads me to question the credibility of the books being published in the early modern period. How can we know that there was not a large quantity of non credible knowledge being published in these books. It becomes difficult to evaluate since the paradigm in which we live differs from that of the early modern period, but it because an interesting question to research. I also enjoyed the mention that knowledge today is being spread through videos. This is an even more visual way of learning and spreading knowledge, whereas reading is strictly audial (though the book you read did include drawn pictures). We can conclude, in extent, that the dessimination of knowledge through videos is a major influence on the increase of visual learners in our generation. Interesting arguments. Much enjoyed.