Upcoming: On Numbers as System and Symbol

[Figure from Book I. Elucidations]. Oliver Byrne. The First Six Books of the Elements of Euclid: In Which Coloured Diagrams and Symbols Are Used Instead of Letters for the Greater Ease of Learners. London: William Pickering, 1847: p. xxiv.
August 7, 2018

September 17-December 14, 2018

Douglas R. Hofstadter writes in his 1979 book Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid that “there is something clean and pure in the abstract notion of number, removed from counting beads, dialects, or clouds” (p. 56). And yet, numbers are necessarily bound up with questions of representation, as notions of singularity and plurality allow us to make distinctions and draw boundaries. Numbers can indicate quantity but also size, sequence, importance, and identity.

This exhibition presents a selection of works from Arts Library Special Collections that incorporate various aspects of numbers. The books on display include almanacs, maps, musical scores, poems, and puzzles. They employ both practical and theoretical approaches to numbers—from counting sheep (and even clouds) to exploring such concepts as time, distance, money, and magnitude. Other books examine the relationship between numbers and language or color. Whether system or symbol, concrete or abstract, numbers = meaning.

All Arts Library exhibitions are free and open to the public. During the academic year, the library is open to the public Monday through Thursday 8:30am – 7:00pm and Friday 8:30am – 5:00pm. After 7:00pm on weekdays and all day on weekends, a Yale ID card is required to enter the building. To access exhibits and collections after public hours, please contact art.library@yale.edu to schedule an appointment.

Curator: Molly E. Dotson

Image source: [Figure from Book I. Elucidations]. Oliver Byrne. The First Six Books of the Elements of Euclid: In Which Coloured Diagrams and Symbols Are Used Instead of Letters for the Greater Ease of Learners. London: William Pickering, 1847: p. xxiv.

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