History of Science Pamphlets

Some time back I stumbled across Brain Washing From Phone Towers and was immediately intrigued by anybody producing pamphlets today,[1] especially pamphlets that deal with any aspect of the history of science.

Sarah Nicholls is the genius behind Brain Washing From Phone Towers, informational pamphlets about this, that, and the other thing.
Sarah Nicholls is the genius behind Brain Washing From Phone Towers, informational pamphlets about this, that, and the other thing.

Out of the blue, I sent an email to the woman, Sarah Nicholls (a printer in Brooklyn), behind Brain Washing From Phone Towers. She responded quickly and sent two of her pamphlets, one on Isaac Newton and one on the Escape Wheel.

The cover of Sarah Nicholls’s “Action at a Distance” pamphlet.
The cover of Sarah Nicholls’s “Action at a Distance” pamphlet.

I immediately read and enjoyed both. They do a wonderful job of combining history, science, and the present in an entertaining and informative way—they are pamphlets, after all.

Newton’s three laws from Sarah Nicholls’s “Action at a Distance” pamphlet.
Newton’s three laws from Sarah Nicholls’s “Action at a Distance” pamphlet.

I particularly like the designs and cuts blocks for the illustrations that adorn each pamphlet (see this post for her work designing the image of wave propagation in the “Action at a Distance” pamphlet). Isaac Newton, Isaac Barrow, Edmund Halley, and Gottfried Leibniz all come up, as do the Royal Society, mathematics, alchemy, scriptures, and the plague.

Detail from Sarah Nicholls’s “Escape Wheel” pamphlet.
Detail from Sarah Nicholls’s “Escape Wheel” pamphlet.

“Escape Wheel” is about keeping time. Sundials, water clocks, pendulum clocks, and other mechanical clocks. Christiaan Huygens, William Clement, John Harrison, and the problem of longitude come up.

Detail from Sarah Nicholls’s “Escape Wheel” pamphlet, section on the longitude problem.
Detail from Sarah Nicholls’s “Escape Wheel” pamphlet, section on the longitude problem.

As with any good pamphlet, the “Escape Wheel” gestures to politics. In a closing note:

Despite the many advantages of new technologies, there are holes in the technological narrative as well.**

**The depletion of scarce resources, the minuscule lifespan of digital devices, profits from the mining of raw materials for electronics funding civil war, coal-powered factories in China producing new devices, growing piles of e-waste, the death of privacy, the rise of the surveillance state, and the burning of more coal to power data centers and wireless networks, so that all our citizens can enjoy instantaneous access to funny pictures of our pets, instagrams of our lunch, and oceans of amateur porn.

Here we get an idea of how she put together the illustrations for “Escape Wheel.” Peruse Sarah Nicholls’s blog to find glimpses of how she designs and prints her pamphlets.


  1. Given the number of posts on pamphlets here, my interest in contemporary pamphleteering should be no surprise.  ↩