Chemical Warfare In The First World War

Chemical weapons were probably the most feared of all weapons in World War One. While other new developments such as the machine gun killed far more soldiers overall during the war, soldiers could still find some shelter in shell craters from gunfire, and death would be quick. Death by poison gas however was frequently drawn out and a gas attack meant soldiers having to put on crude gas masks which if unsuccessful, an attack could leave a victim in agony for days and weeks before he finally succumbed to his injuries.

Although chemical warfare had already been outlawed as of the 1899 Hague Conference, France, Germany and Britain all continued to experiment with tear gases as they did not consider them to be in violation of the agreement. From September 1914, the desperate search for ways to break the endless stalemate of trench warfare caused them to turn to these chemical weapons.

In August 1914 the French first used tear gas cartridges developed before the war from weapons used by the Paris police. This was more an irritant rather than a gas that would kill. It was used to stop the seemingly unstoppable German army advancing throughout Belgium and north-eastern France. The Germans first used gas In October 1914 when they fired gas shells at the French that contained a chemical that caused violent sneezing fits. Again, the gas was not designed to kill rather than to incapacitate an enemy so that they were unable to defend their positions properly.

One particular early use of gas of this type showed the limitations of this early and unreliable form of chemical warfare. It was on the Eastern front, unlike the other examples, at the Battle of Bolimov. Here, eighteen thousand gas shells containing xylyl bromide were fired at Russian positions, but were a complete failure. The winter weather was too cold to permit an effective aerosol to disperse the gas, and the chemical was either blown back towards the German lines, fell harmlessly to the ground, or was not concentrated enough to cause any damage.Untitled

These first uses of gas took place when the war in the west that was still very mobile. Once trench warfare had time to settle in, all sides involved in the conflict looked for any way possible to bring movement back into their campaigns. One of the more obvious was to develop a weapon that would destroy not only an enemy frontline but also the will to maintain troops on that frontline. Poison gas might even provoke a mass mutiny along a frontline thus causing it to collapse. In other words, poison gas seemed to be the answer for the war’s lack of mobility.

Poison gas (in this case, chlorine) was used for the first time at the Second Battle of Ypres in April 1915. On the 22nd April, French sentries in Ypres noticed greenish-yellow clouds moving towards them,  a gas delivered from pressurised cylinders dug into the German front line. The French took this for an enemy smokescreen used to disguise the movement of German troops. Believing this, all French troops in the area were ordered to the firing line of their trench – right in the path of the chlorine. As the gas clouds reached the French trenches and revealed their nature it would have been too late, as the impact was immediate and devastating. Chlorine gas kills by irritating the lungs to such an extent that they flood with fluid, and the victim effectively drowns as a result. The defenders that did not succumb to the gas fled, allowing the German infantry to advance and quickly overrun the frontline.

After this first used of deadly poison gas, other nations then rushed to develop their own chemical weapons and defences against them. This led to a rapid development in these two areas. The development in the use of gas led to both phosgene and mustard gas being used. Phosgene was a gas which was felt by the victim only 48 hours after it had been inhaled and by then it had already too late, as it had imbedded itself in the respiratory system and very little could be done to eradicate it. Also it was much less obvious to begin with thaUntitled2t someone had inhaled phosgene as it did not cause as much violent coughing as other gases. Mustard gas was first used by the Germans against the Russians at Riga in September 1917. This gas caused both internal and external blisters on the victim within hours of being exposed to it. The damage to the lungs and other internal organs were extremely painful and although not always fatal, many who did survive were blinded by the gas.

Alongside the development of new gases, armies quickly developed gas masks that gave protection as long as sufficient warning was given of a gas attack. Soldiers were also trained to use make-shift gas masks if they were caught in the open without a gas mask during a gas attack, such as cloth soaked in their own urine and placed over the mouth, said to give protection against a chlorine attack. By the end of the war, relatively sophisticated gas masks were available to soldiers in the trenches on the Western Front.

From Bronze To Iron

The Iron Age is conventionally defined by the widespread use of Iron tools and weapons, alongside or replacing bronze ones. The transition happened at different times in different parts of the world as the technology spread. Mesopotamia was fully into the Iron Age by 900 BC. Although Egypt produced iron artifacts, bronze remained dominant there until the conquest by Assyria in 663 BC. The Iron Age started in Central Europe around 500 BC, and in India and China sometime between 1200 and 500 BC.

Before the start of what can be considered an ‘Iron Age’ there would have been some sort of slow gradual transition, especially in the earlier cases. So there are many examples of iron artifacts being produced in small quantities in places that were still far from their Iron Age. The place and time for the discovery of iron smelting is not known, but archaeological evidence seems to point to the Middle East area, during the Bronze Age in the 3rd millennium BC. One of the earliest smelted iron artifacts found is a dagger with an iron blade found in a Hattic tomb in Anatolia, dating from 2500 BC. By about 1500 BC, increasing numbers of smelted iron objects appear in Mesopotamia, Anatolia, and Egypt. For example, nineteen iron objects were found in the tomb of Egyptian ruler Tutankhamun, who died in 1323 BC, including an iron dagger with a golden hilt and sixteen models of artisan tools.

Iron artifacts still remained a rarity until the 12th century BC. Although iron objects from the Bronze Age were found all across the Eastern Mediterranean, they are almost insignificant in numbers when compared to the quantity of bronze objects during this time. By the 12th century BC, iron smelting and forging, for weapons and tools, was common from Sub-Saharan Africa and through India. As the technology spread, iron came to replace bronze as the dominant metal used for tools and weapons across the Eastern Mediterranean. Iron working was introduced to Greece in the late 11th century BC and the earliest parts seeing the Iron Age in Central Europe are of the Hallstatt culture in the 8th century BC. Throughout the 7th to 6th centuries BC, iron artifacts remained luxury items reserved for an elite. This changed dramatically after 500 BC with the rise of the La Tène culture, from which time iron also becomes common in Northern Europe and Britain. The spread of iron working in Central and Western Europe at this time is heavily associated with the Celtic expansion.

In most of these places, as expected, the transition from Bronze to Iron as the dominant metal was very slow. To begin with Iron was actually a rather poor material for weapons, particularly early on when iron smelting knowledge was weak. Swords would be liable to bend or break. Yet bronze weapon manufacturing had been perfected after many centuries of use, so it would be more efficient and convenient to stay with the tried and tested. However there is an event which straddled the Bronze and Iron Ages, and may be part of an example of a more sudden change from bronze to iron. This event, known as The Late Bronze Age collapse was a transition in the Aegean Region, Southwestern Asia and the Eastern Mediterranean from the Late Bronze Age to the Early Iron Age that historians believe was violent, sudden and culturally disruptive. There are various theories put forward to explain the reasons behind the collapse, many of them based on Environmental and cultural factors.

There are also many theories that may show that it may be no coincidence that the collapse and the transition to Iron overlapped in this area. One suggests that iron, while inferior to bronze for weapons, was in more plentiful supply and so allowed larger armies of iron users to overwhelm the smaller bronze-using armies. Iron’s advantage was that its ores were very easily accessible. And while the smelting process was more difficult, once learned it would allow mass production of iron items. It didn’t matter if the bronze weapons were as good or better, if you could field ten times as many armed men. However, this argument has been weakened with the finding that the shift to iron may have occurred after the collapse instead of before. Another theory is that the disruption of long distance trade during and after the collapse cut the supplies of tin, making bronze impossible to make. Whichever way the Mediterranean cultures came to their Iron age, it was likely from here that Iron production techniques were passed on to eventually become the norm and gradually move north with the expansion of the Celtic cultures throughout Europe.

Trench Engineering in WW1!

Although this month is dedicated to music and such, we still keep up our monthly updates on WW1!  So without further ado I  welcome you to a blog post on WW1 trench engineering.  The trenches made a big part of what we know of WW1.  Trench warfare however was not new; this has to be made clear.  Trench warfare had been used in the American Civil War and previous wars, and is still used today.  However I will be discussing them as in WW1 terms.  Now this post will cover a few points; firstly how were trenches designed, and how where they made.  Secondly how did engineers work, this includes mine work as well as the use of barbed wire and the like.  I would like to point out before I continue, that I am no engineer, and won’t be able to give you many technical specifications, I could always ask my sister, but she will be way to be busy doing her MA!  So grab a drink, relax and enjoy the read.

So as I mentioned in my short introduction, trench warfare was not new, it had been developed in the American Civil war.  Battles such as Gettysburg are well-known for their trench systems, and can still be visited to this day!  You would think that the horror of that civil war would have deterred people from using trenches?  Sadly not, they are good for defensible positions, and as the First World War was a war of attrition (who would run out of men first), trenches seemed the best way to win.

So a WW1 trench, what did it look like?,  Well I could use words to describe one, but that would take too long and would no doubt be really tedious and boring, so I will share with you an image which explains their layout. Continue reading “Trench Engineering in WW1!”

Gunpowder

The invention of Gunpowder is truly one of the most remarkable throughout History. It was invented in China during the Tang Dynasty, circa 850 AD. It was a remarkable discovery as it was discovered by an unnamed Chinese alchemist who mixed seventy-five parts of saltpetre with fifteen parts of charcoal and ten parts sulphur. When the concoction was close to a lit flame it exploded. The unnamed inventor was practising alchemy- a medieval precursor for chemistry, whereby they attempted to find the elixir of life.

The origins of the ingredients are as follows- Charcoal is an impure form of carbon that contains some left over ash and sulphur is an element, like Charcoal had been known for many years preceding the invention of gunpowder. Saltpetre has been known to China as it can be found in some of the region’s soil. A Chinese Pharmacist described it as:

‘It is a ‘ground frost’, an efflorescence of the soil. It occurs among mountains and marshes, and in winter months it looks like frost on the ground. People sweep it up, collect it and dissolve it in water, after which they boil it to evaporate it. The crystals look like the pins of a hair-ornament. Good ones can be about half an inch (12.5mm) in length.’[1]

 

However when gunpowder was first developed it was not associated with weaponry as it could not be used as an effective explosive. It can however mimic an explosive when a large amount of saltpetre is added to the concoction. Through trial and error the Chinese were able to get enough information about the how gunpowder could be used as a weapon. A few hundred years after 900 AD gunpowder gradually became a part of weaponry. Firstly gunpowder was added to mixtures that were launched from trebuchets and catapults. What’s more the Chinese used them to light arrows in order to make the attack more effective in warfare. Secondly the Chinese advanced even further to use gunpowder as the main element to light up flamethrowers for battle in order to make the development of warfare safer as it avoided keeping the fluid under pressure as beforehand fire oil was used. The next stage of development saw the first attempt at utilising the explosive power of gunpowder, in other words a bomb was created using gunpowder. Eventually Chinese technicians were able to effectively create materials that would contain the explosion from gunpowder. This allowed the Chinese to make the hand-held gun and the canon. In the years after 969 gunpowder weapons were successfully used against enemies like Nun Thang.

As we move into the next century in 1040 AD there are many accounts of the Chinese using gunpowder whip arrows and even used animals to carry gunpowder. To do this warriors would apply the gunpowder around the necks of birds, hoping that they will settle down on to enemy territory. By the time the eleventh century arrived the Chinese developed gunpowder even further for weaponry. They began to use Fire lances. The Fire lance was a sophisticated use of weaponry, whereby soldiers would have a small iron fire-box attached to their belt that was lit up through a tube, ready to be fired at the enemy. It was a very versatile weapon as fire power could be used from the gunpowder and when it ran out the weapon could be used as a regular spear.  The design was particularly simple yet innovative as the Chinese used sixteen layers of paper that were rolled up and tied to cords at the end of each spear, allowing the flames to shoot out at a range of 3.6 metres.

The use of Fire-lances were pivotal for the military use of gunpowder as it more often than not caused enemies to be frightened due to the loud bang that gunpowder produced. This therefore inadvertently created psychological warfare as many men and horses would have been startled by it unlike other weapons such as swords and spears which could only frighten at close range. Gunpowder was able to startle the enemy when at further range.

In naval warfare the Chinese developed from the Fire-lances, ‘thunderclap bombs’. Thunderclap bombs proved to be very useful as it was able to treat gunpowder as a true explosive. The bombs when fired met the water and the noise that erupted mimicked thunder, whilst the sulphur in the gunpowder turned into flames. An example of this happening occurred in 1161 at the battle of Tshai-shih. The Chinese fleet was led by Yu Yun-Wen against the Jurchens, who attempted to seize the south of China. Fortunately the thunder bomb aided in the Chinese victory as the smoke emitted from the bomb blinded the men on board as well as the initial bomb causing many casualties.

After the Mongols were overthrown from the mid fourteenth century by the Ming Dynasty bomb development in China continued. Light-casing bombs were then established during this era and like its predecessors the bomb contained a much-needed addition in order to aid with warfare-a type of napalm. The ingredients to this concoction were unpleasant as when the bomb exploded iron spikes flew out with a poison contained in the gunpowder. This caused intense swelling and burns. Although it is unknown what the actual poison contained, however it can be assumed a poisonous plant might have been responsible.

When the Chinese used gunpowder with a high-saltpetre content the possibilities of gunpowder seemed more and more effective in warfare. Due to the high-saltpetre content the bomb needed metal casing as the explosions permitted more damage. Eventually from this large bombs could be made to defend territory. In 1250 mines were used by the Chinese. The first mine was not very effective as it detonated by a long fuse, thus making it highly unreliable. In 1300 however the Chinese managed to find a way to rectify the issue. They were able to create a hidden mechanism that allowed a weight to spin a wheel over flints that triggered the fuse when the enemy arrived. It was the fuse that the Chinese technicians figured out could connect to all the mines, allowing them to explode.

It was from these early Chinese designs that gunpowder was developed through circa 850 to the mid fourteenth century as affective weaponry for arrows, lances, bombs and mines. It was from these initial designs that the rocket and guns came about and can be argued that its origins can be traced back through to the days of alchemy- finding the elixir of life and quite ironically so it can be argued that gunpowder is the elixir of death? So before you mimic the famous words of the fifth of November rhyme please do also remember the origins of gunpowder and its use as a lethal weapon.

[1] Unknown author, ‘Gunpowder’ in Clive Ponting, ‘Gunpowder’ (London, 2005), 16.

A brief history of the Dodo – or, how one species came to be a Victorian environmental icon.

Dodo_(VOC_Gelderland,_1602)

Sketches of the Dodo drawn from life on Mauritius for the Dutch East India Company, 1602. The famous “Gelderland” drawings are probably some of the most realistic that have survived for analysis. Picture Credit: V.O.C/Wikimedia Commons.

Within modern political discourse, concern for the environment is often unthinkingly assumed to stem from the first alarming North American ‘tipping points’ centring on the critical overexploitation of localities which occurred from 1950 to 1975, and arguably continues throughout the world today. In particular, this includes the identification of the loss of wildlife and biodiversity within exploited localities, exemplified by the research and prophesies of the first truly prominent environmental scientists such as Carson and Lovelock.

While the half-myth of this arbitrary scientific and philosophical genesis fits comfortably into a highly complex liberal consensus of the post-industrial and post-globalisation responsibilities of the state, space age anger only really constituted a revolution in environmental thought. Evidence of environmental concern over impact and biodiversity amongst technologically advanced civilizations far pre-dates the advent of D.D.T and O.P.E.C.

Stemming from the rational values of the European enlightenment, academia during the Industrial Revolution created clearly recognisable preliminaries of modern climatic and biological analysis, albeit devoid of a global perspective due to technical and societal constraints. The radical mid-eighteenth century theories of De Buffon tentatively began the process of assessing the environmental impact of humans in the Holocene in a way truly distinct from reliance on the interpretative Early Modern ‘Great Chain of Being.’ Naïve sources from the so-called ‘Age of Discovery’ also provide us with further unique perspectives on first encounters within the “natural laboratories” of remote islands, through an arguably anthropological filter. These have proved exceptionally useful to scientists and historians alike in reconstructing the irrevocable alteration of ecosystems.

There is a lot to be learnt from examining both the environmental methodology and mistakes of the past. Yet amongst the historiography and popular culture of environmentalist forethought within historical biology, the exemplary case study has been that of the Mauritian Dodo. Iconic to the point of being instantly recognisable, the Dodo enjoys a privileged position as the nominal ‘poster species’ for biodiversity loss and mass extinction.

Raphus cucullatus has become an enigmatic and enduring symbol of unnecessary destruction. A humble tropical, flightless pigeon has helped to cast a long shadow of doubt over humanities ultimate role in the world into modernity, from an iota of first hand experience.The ultimate environmental moral of this avian martyr to colonisation and development is contained in how few first hand accounts are available. Between initial settlement in 1598 and c.1681, the species constituted a mere ornithological curiosity amongst the literate classes and (more frequently) a source of easy game meat for the seaborne working on Mauritius until c.1638, when the surviving population probably moved inland.

Competition from imported mammals such as the common rat probably proved highly detrimental, but this is hard to absolutely prove in the wake of extremely poor observation. In the absence of a typically dense breeding population, the Dodo went into terminal decline. Within one hundred years of settlement and regular human contact, the species was extinct.

These apathetic attitudes that aided the eradication of the Dodo are bitterly reflected in the small amount of surviving historical evidence. Most reasonably reliable written sources derive from the Dutch East India company, and can be comfortably listed within a single article. Regardless, these existing accounts are often ambiguous, factually flawed when cross-referenced or fundamentally erratic in nature, complicating analysis.

Physical remains are also astoundingly scarce; only two recent Holocene skeletal specimens (the Ashmole and Thirioux deposits) are known to have survived into the twentieth century in Oxford, England and Port Louis, Mauritius. Additionally, most sketches and paintings from life or carcass are confined to a very small number of examples from a four decade window of Dutch art, with the (likely inaccurate) works of Savery dominating.

800px-Roelandt_Savery_-_'Dodo_Birds',_Chalk,_black_and_amber_on_cream_paper

Savery’s imagined sketch of three Dodo birds foraging, c.1626. The unrealistically fat Dodos depicted probably stemmed from observation of one of the very few birds to survive transportation to the courts of Europe, far removed from their natural habitat and diet. Picture credit: Wikimedia commons.

With the addition of enduring and popular misconceptions, it is understandable that the average modern mental picture of the Dodo is probably woefully inaccurate, and the scientific one inevitably flawed to some degree. For example, it is a widespread assumption that the Dodo was an ungainly and obese bird as in the drawings of Sir John Tenniel despite more recent scientific evidence pointing towards the Dodo being closer to an athletic scavenger. Even within more academic texts, speculation and logical conjuncture still abound in discussions of the Dodo. Despite approximately two centuries of fossil interest, we still do not know the precise diet, morphology, behavioural patterns and definitive cause of extinction for the Dodo, as palaeontology cannot substitute fully for direct zoological observation.

It is unsurprising therefore that the majority of the European academic community outside of Britain during the early eighteenth century seemed to have held the Dodo to be pure myth, or at best a subject of contentious validity in biological science. However, the late eighteenth and nineteenth century provided a redemption, and posthumous recognition for the species. A combination of French scientific radicalism and the subsequent English biological revolution (encompassing the theories and work of Lamarck and Darwin) marked a change in fortune for the bird.

As speculation over the impact of the increasingly adept and sprawling European civilizations grew, political upheaval resulted in Mauritius being annexed in 1814 as a British outpost during the Napoleonic conflict. This coincidental event that had the fortunate side effect of greatly assisting the research into historical Dutch settlement of the British intellectual elite, a group that already possessed the only reliable and tangible Dodo remains in Europe. An increasing interest in biological adaptation and variations within fossil material from the 1830’s thus led to Strickland and Melville’s gradual assembling of their exhaustively researched “Dodo scrapbook” from which the vast majority of our primary sources are still derived.

Subsequent osteological dissection undertaken by Strickland and Melville in 1848 of the cranium (from part of the Ashmolean Dodo, the rest bar a foot having been unfortunately incinerated by Oxford curators in 1755) and of post-cranial anatomy by Owen et al from the Clark deposit of fossil remains in 1866 greatly furthered attempts to biologically define and identify the Dodo. Through Owen reconstructing an anatomical frame by juxtaposing the skeleton onto the surviving works of Savery, a rudimentary working model of Dodo physiology and morphology was created, proving the existence and subsequent demise of the Dodo beyond reasonable doubt. This combination of biological science, palaeontology and historical research within both art and literature helped to enshrine the Dodo as an inarguably evident example within wider nineteenth century theories of extinction.

Alongside other examples of vanished fauna examined by the scientific community in the wake of Darwin (such as Steller’s Seacow and the Great Auk) the Dodo contributed greatly towards proving indisputably that human impact can influence an ecosystem to the point of obliterating an entire species. Following the publication of these respective and quietly extraordinary monographs in the midst of rapidly emerging radical work by Darwin, Huxley and Wallace, the Dodo increasingly became something of a minor Victorian celebrity.

Most famously of all, Charles Dodgson (better known as Lewis Carroll) was directly inspired by the Dodo’s increasing academic fame and a contemporary display accompanying the remains at the Ashmolean. Dodgson popularised and personified the Dodo in 1865 within Alice in Wonderland, using the (then) ungainly and ridiculous figure as an allegorical vessel for self insertion into his playfully absurd world. This appearance helped to make the Dodo a common point of reference within both the United Kingdom and America.

In the words of Nicholas Pike (writing in 1873) “Everyone has heard all about the Dodo…1” testifying to the extraordinary impact of a fairly obscure biological quandary in middle class culture within the English-speaking world. As well as the obvious metaphorical appeal of its unfortunate demise, the absurd, grotesque and oddly named bird lent itself well to becoming an object of romantic and patronising affection for the educated Victorian public, analogous perhaps to penguins today. This has had long-lasting effects. As well as the obvious environmental fable, the Dodo retains an undeniable popularity amongst authors with a decidedly phantasmagorical focus. Successful writers from Adams to Fforde have used the bird to flavour their surreal plots.

Image

Sir John Tenniel’s iconic illustration of the Dodo, 1865. Picture credit: The Victorian Web, http://www.victorianweb.org/art/illustration/tenniel/alice/3.2.jpg. Educational/Academic use only.

While literature and popular culture undoubtedly transformed some general attitudes towards nature, this new scientific knowledge contributed to more serious protective measures in law. Although we should not confuse Victorian legislation with measures aimed at global protection, it is both notable and fitting that Mauritius became the first country in the world to enact legislation restricting hunting of specific species in 1878, in light of this new narrative of concern over excessive natural exploitation. Many other species have since vanished worldwide through the impact of humanity but this can be seen as the start of a long road towards conservation and protection within British territory, one which would be paralleled in America and Australasia as species became accidentally outmoded by increased human settlement and technological development.

The Dodo is but one part of several larger narratives, in that it is both an object of scientific and historical interest and a moral warning from history. While the arguments for retaining our natural environment are far too complex to go into here, to write off the loss of the Dodo as an acceptable casualty of modernity would be enormously callous considering the highly interconnected nature of natural life cycles and the loss to the human experience that each extinct species represents.

However, the Dodo may not stay permanently extinct. Recent developments and advancements in genetics have opened up the serious possibility of redressing this historical injustice in the near future, either out of scientific or moral interest. It is highly possible that within the next century (pending investment and clearance) the Dodo will live once again via genetic reconstruction and cloning. This would constitute a fitting final chapter for a noble (if poorly adaptable) species that has suffered so much unnecessary persecution both intellectually and physically through ignorance.

Further materials of interest.

Strickland and Melville published their findings (along with illustrations and additional research) for public consumption in 1848. It is now possible read and download the classic The dodo and its kindred online here as a result of the generosity of the various benefactors of Biodiversity Heritage library collection.

1 Checke, Anthony S. and Turvey, Samuel T.,  ‘Dead as a dodo: the fortuitous rise to fame of an extinction icon,’ Historical Biology, Vol. 20, No. 2, (June 2008) 149–163.

Bibliography.

Checke, Anthony S. and Turvey, Samuel T., ‘Dead as a Dodo: the fortuitous rise to fame of an extinction icon,’ Historical Biology, Vol. 20, No. 2, (June 2008) 149–163.

Hume, J.P., Cheke, A.S., and McOran-Campbell, A., ‘How Owen ‘stole’ the Dodo: academic rivalry and disputed rights to a newly-discovered subfossil deposit in nineteenth century Mauritius,’ Historical Biology, Vol. 21, No. 1–2, March–June, (2009) 33–49.

Hume, Julian P., ‘The history of the Dodo Raphus cucullatus and the penguin of Mauritius,’ Historical Biology, Vol.18, No.2, (2006) 65–89

Nicholls, Henry, ‘Digging for Dodo,’ Nature, Vol. 443, Sep., (2006) 138-140.

The History of Cameras

The history of the camera is extensive, technical and, at times, obscure; for example there is no one particular person credited with the invention of the camera, it was more of a continual process of progress throughout history. Nevertheless notable names include Johann Heinrich Schulze, Joseph Niépce, Louis-Jacques Mandé Daguerre and George Eastman.

The camera obscura was known to be the first device that captured an image on-screen. It had been known to scholars as early as the 4th and 5th centuries around the time of Aristotle. However in 1021 AD, Idn al-Haytham was the first man to give a clear and correct description of the camera obscura and the diffraction of light, as well as being recognised as the father of modern optics.

After the analysis of the camera obscura, came the exploration of chemical components needed to create a photograph. In 1727, Johann Heinrich Schulze discovered that using silver nitrate could create a black and white image. The chemical reaction of the film to silver nitrate, meant that the covered parts remained white and that which was exposed, turned black. However, over time, everything turned black.

Joseph Niépce, like Schulze, was not involved directly with the invention of the camera, but of what a camera could produce – a photograph. Niépce was able to create a photographic image with camera obscura, but it required 8 hours of light exposure and only lasted a few hours. Niépce described the camera as an ‘artificial eye, which is nothing but a small box six inches square’ and this metaphor is still true today; the camera we know, allows a recreation of the image we see in front of us, artificially creating the human eye.

Over the next 100 years, the camera progressed through shorter development times, the development of the negative-positive process which allowed for multiple copies, the first photograph advertisement in 1843 and forty years later the first Kodak roll-film camera was produced and patented by George Eastman. The camera was developed with a lens and was sold with film in order to appeal to the mass market.

Inventions of new technology allowed the camera to be honed and perfected; this meant that the camera was an invention of its time; being improved upon when technology permitted. Edwin Land marketed the Polaroid camera in 1948; this was followed by the integration of instant colour film in the 60s. After colour, all that was left was to improve upon was the speed in which a camera took a photograph, the digital screen to view photographs, the quality of the picture and the size of the camera. I don’t want this to sound derogatory by using the phrase ‘all that was left’, but these developments, in comparison to the 1800s and the technological hindrances the inventors faced, seemed simple and just needed a team of creative people in order to progress. For instance, in 1985, Pixar were the first company to ever create an animated feature-length film, and they had to invent the digital imaging processor in order to create ‘Toy Story’.

In today’s society, cameras have become an indispensable accessory, whether individually or as part of a computer or phone. We take advantage of the ease in which we can use this technology and it is fascinating to see how much we have progressed from the 18th century, when the interest in capturing an image really started, to the 21st century, when we cannot think about life without capturing parts of it.

[1] http://wiki.answers.com/Q/Who_invented_the_camera

[2] http://invention.yukozimo.com/who-invented-the-camera/

[3] http://www.photoquotations.com/a/512/Joseph+Nicéphore+Niépce