X.1 Being a Map of Physics

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Bernard Porter

This map is the culmination of a six-year-long labor of love by noted physicist, visual artist, poet, and peace activist Bernard H. Porter. Porter began compiling the historical data upon which the map is based in 1932 while a fellow in radioactive research at Brown University. He then took most of the summer of 1933, working out of his parent’s home in Houlton, Maine, to compose the map’s striking visuals. The following years were spent circulating the map among prominent physicists and historians of science to verify its accuracy. The end result is a rich geography of a scientific field, one that uses mapping conventions to make understandable the way ideas move and develop over time. Ambitious in scope, the map traces the history of physics from the 6th century B.C. to the present day. Key theoretical starting points such as ‘Mechanics,’ ‘Sound,’ ‘and Light’ appear as water sources from which streams of thought emerge. Located alongside these rivers are “villages” representing figures like Isaac Newton, Alessandro Volta, Werner Heisenberg, and other major contributors to the development of physics. Surrounding it all is the map’s border, which is decorated with 24 diagrams that frequently appear in the work of physicists.


Porter, Bernard. 1939. Being a Map of Physics. Courtesy of Maine State Library and Mark Melnicove. In "10th Iteration (2014): The Future of Science Mapping," Places & Spaces: Mapping Science, edited by Katy Börner and Samuel Mills. http://scimaps.org

Acknowledgements: This exhibit is supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. IIS-0238261, CHE-0524661, IIS-0534909 and IIS-0715303, the James S. McDonnell Foundation; Thomson Reuters; the Cyberinfrastructure for Network Science Center, University Information Technology Services, and the School of Library and Information Science, all three at Indiana University. Some of the data used to generate the science maps is from the Web of Science by Thomson Reuters and Scopus by Elsevier. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.