Simon Basher Books as a Database

For those of you who have not heard of Simon Basher, he is a brilliant illustrator who attempts to weave the world of academic study with easy to follow explanations and illustrations in the form of a children’s picture book. One of his most known books, `The Periodic Table` personifies each element as a character, as well as putting them into groups such as the noble gases who are seemingly too snobby to associate with others, or the Alkali metals who are rebels with a reactive behavior.

I would like to argue that the Simon Basher books, and The Periodic Table in specific, follows the standard format of the database. First, there is numerical representation. Each picture is made of up bits, and if you would like to go further the mathematical information as well as the associated number for each element also contains some form of numerical representation. Simon Bashers The Periodic Table also includes modularity. At the top of each page is the number of the element and its names, along with a `mini feed` that includes the elements color, standard state, and more. Then there is the main body of the page personifying the element for understanding, and at the bottom it`s date of discovery, boiling point, and other interesting information is provided. In this there is also automation, as the novel selects what you see, and by formatting the larger text and positioning suggests the importance is larger, where the opposite size and positioning would suggest a smaller importance. Lastly, these books contain variability, as depending on what page you land on you will get a completely different element.  This book also only loosely follows a narrative (by staying in order of left to right on the periodic table), with each page speaking on a different topic.

Example of page:,r:1,s:38



  1. I haven’t heard of Simon Basher before, but I’ll take a look at his works. Every data table, to an extent, is a database, but your example here has really delved into both the intricacies of the periodic table in this regard, and to Basher’s own adaptation. I think you may be stretching some of the new media traits a little, but you’ve definitely shown that the database doesn’t start with the digital.

    • I should also add that visual representation is often underestimated in digital media studies; it sounds as if Basher is very aware of how the visual display changes the information presented. If you’re interested in pursuing this topic, Edward Tufte has written some very good books on visual information displays.

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