3. Curious Machines¶
The Living with Machines project at the Turing Institute and the British Library is looking how our relationship with machines evolved in the period from 1780 to 1914, looking at newspaper reports and other documentary sources held in the British Library collections.
As a companion piece to this serious project, let’s also explore how machines are documented historically in the V&A collections.
To do this, we need run a query for any objects containing the word “machine” from within the period. We’re going to focus on 1780 to 1820, as there are many machine made objects from later in the century that obscure some of these earlier results (and as this is just an example demonstrating our API, the fact we cherry picking the data to ensure it’s interesting for you the reader should not trouble us too much)
To find the relevant records, we will need to pass the following parameters to the API:
q=machine - We want to query for the word “machine” appearing anywhere in the record
year_made_from=1780 - Showing objects made tom 1780
year_made_to=1820 - To objects made upto 1820
We also specify we want the results in CSV format for ease of use with pandas, and we want 80 results to give a good sample size.
import requests import pandas as pd lwm_df = pd.read_csv("https://api.vam.ac.uk/v2/objects/search?q=machine&page=1&year_made_from=1780&year_made_to=1820&response_format=csv&page_size=80") lwm_df.sample(5)
|30||T.289&A-1986||1986||O353068||Pair of stockings||NaN||England||Unknown||NaN||19th century||2019LM2909||cotton (textile)||machine knitted||NaN||In store||False||False|
|49||T.279-1973||1973||O142422||Evening dress||NaN||Great Britain||Unknown||NaN||c.1820||2015HN3034||silk satin||hand sewing||NaN||In store||False||False|
|41||T.278&A-1968||1968||O354074||Pair of sleeves||NaN||England||Unknown||NaN||1815-1825||2018LE8995||NaN||NaN||NaN||In store||False||False|
|75||W.61-1989||1989||O12610||Mould||NaN||London||Unknown||NaN||19th century||2017JY9997||Wood||Hand carved||NaN||In store||False||False|
|79||W.73A-1989||1989||O18827||Mould||NaN||London||Unknown||NaN||19th century||2017JY9946||Wood||Hand carved||NaN||In store||False||False|
Let’s look at that in a graph now to more easily see what types of object mentioning ‘machine’ were most popular from that time period.
import requests import altair as alt import pandas as pd req = requests.get('https://api.vam.ac.uk/v2/objects/clusters/object_type/search?q=machine&year_made_from=1780&year_made_to=1820&cluster_size=100') lwm_df = pd.DataFrame(req.json()) bars = alt.Chart(lwm_df).mark_bar().encode( x='count:Q', y="value:O" ) text = bars.mark_text( align='left', baseline='middle', dx=3 ).encode( text='count:Q' ) (bars + text).properties(height=1000, title="Objects mentioning machine from 1780 to 1820")
So it seems likely that many of these objects were created using some form of machine (‘mould’ and ‘dress fabric’ for example), but there are some un-expected objects here that might perhaps be considered machines themselves, including an ‘Exhibition Box’ and a ‘Deceptive Glass’.
Let’s look in more detail at the Deceptive Glass, retrieving the image.
req = pd.read_csv('https://api.vam.ac.uk/v2/objects/search?q=machine&year_made_from=1780&year_made_to=1820&kw_object_type=deceptive%20glass&response_format=csv&page_size=50') req
|0||C.210-1913||O3417||Deceptive glass||NaN||England||Unknown||NaN||ca. 1820-1880||2006AM3610||NaN||NaN||BRITAIN||British Galleries, Room 122b||False||False|
## ipyosd not working yet from ipyosd import OSDViewer from ipywidgets import Layout OSDViewer(url="https://framemark.vam.ac.uk/collections/2006AM3610/info.json", layout=Layout(width='75%', height='675px'))
from IPython.display import Image Image(url = "https://framemark.vam.ac.uk/collections/2006AM3610/full/600,/0/default.jpg")
Hmmm, it’s not entirely clear what’s machine like (or even deceptive) about this. Let’s look at the object description:
req = requests.get('https://api.vam.ac.uk/v2/museumobject/O3417') object_record = req.json() object_record["record"]["summaryDescription"]
"<b>Object Type</b><br>A modest, entirely plain glass used for ices, perhaps made by the newly invented ice cream-making 'machine'. Although in outline the same shape as a drinking glass, the bowl is all but solid, allowing only a minimal lick. Made in the mid-19th century, at a time when cheap, press-moulded glass was beginning to become the most available type, a hand-made but undecorated artefact such as this was still extremely marketable.<br><br><b>Ownership & Use</b><br>Used in cafes, seaside booths and places of entertainment, a smear of ice was spread on the surface and licked off by the customer. The glass was then returned to the seller for immediate use by the next customer.<br><br><b>Materials & Making</b><br>This 'lick' is made in strong, brilliantly clear lead glass. Hand-blown and tooled, the 'bowl' is virtually solid. Each section of the foot, stem and bowl is made from extra glass added at various stages, and probably at least two people were involved in the making of this glass."
So, the glass was not made by a machine, but was perhaps designed for use with new ice cream-making “machines” from the mid-19th century.
From lessons learn from recent world events, we do not advise sharing an ice cream licking glass without proper cleaning in-between.
Let’s go back to look at another of the possible machines from our search query, the “Exhibition Box”
req = pd.read_csv('https://api.vam.ac.uk/v2/objects/search?q=machine&year_made_from=1780&year_made_to=1820&kw_object_type=Exhibition%20box&response_format=csv&page_size=50') req
|0||P.44:1 to 4-1955||O118142||Exhibition box||Showbox||Great Britain||Gainsborough, Thomas||designer||ca. 1781-1782||2006AE7709||Oak||NaN||NaN||NaN||False||False|
## ipyosd not working yet from ipyosd import OSDViewer from ipywidgets import Layout OSDViewer(url="https://framemark.vam.ac.uk/collections/2006AE7709/info.json", layout=Layout(width='75%', height='675px'))
from IPython.display import Image Image(url = "https://framemark.vam.ac.uk/collections/2006AE7709/full/600,/0/default.jpg")
Well, this is looking a bit more machine like. The Exhibition Box has a fascinating history, you can read up more on the object page It would be interesting to see if this “machine” (and others of a similiar kind) was discussed in newspapers from the era.
Combine more mentions of machines in newspapers with examples of the objects from the V&A collections
Hopefully the Living with Machines team will be carrying out the very important task of mapping the spread of ice-cream machines throughout the United Kingdom, as reported in regional newspapers.