Niepes' first photograph- exposure was all afternoon. Bitumen of Judea is essentially asphalt. It will harden in places that receive sunlight and those places will remain when it is submerged in a salt water bath. That stuff is disgusting, messy and it smells; nuff said. :-p
You didn't seem to be following a very linear pattern with the history- Talbot and Daguerre/Niepes were all working around the same time they were just separated by geography. (some historians speculate that Talbot was making paper negatives as far back as 1824) Also Daguerre was always in it for the money. He backed Niepes' research so that he could come up with a way to produce scrim-backgrounds for the popular theater that he owned. Niepes' idea would negate the hours upon hours of meticulous painting the Daguerre had to pay for and wait to be completed. Even though he sold the patent to the French gov't, for a healthy sum, he retained all rights for the manufacturing of equipment and chemistry. So even though the process was owned by the French gov't and you could get it for free, you still had to hand over money to Daguerre to have access to chemicals and cameras.
Interesting factoid- Kodak's first digital camera was not created from any part that Kodak manufactured themselves. It was assembled from pre-made parts from another company. :-)
Something that people hate to hear- "USE A TRIPOD!!!!" I don't know how many times I have to tell my students about shooting with a tripod when they bring images back from a shoot and they're trying to hand hold at 1/4 of a second. Its something I say at least once a week. Thanks for fightin the good fight with the tripod reinforcement.
When you don't have time to meter, previz, etc- Again, practice makes perfect. If you, as the photographer, hasn't gone to the effort to learn some of the extraneous facts that you pick up when you take the concerted effort to understand light relationships you wont be able to more consistently make that snap judgement. Your penchant for AA makes me think of the story behind "Moonrise over Hernandez" that he writes about in his autobiography. That knowledge is essential if caught in one of those situations.
Favorite elements from history- The fuzzy-graph- Glass dry plate, 1889 in a book, or rather pamphlet that he published called "Naturalistic Photography for Students of Art" He advocated that the camera is too perfect a mimetic device and that distant, far off things are seen by the human eye blurrier than the camera sees things there by creating an unnatural photograph. I like to think he just needed glasses.
Anyway- This idea of the fuzzy-graph caught fire and became the next big thing until he published another book/pamphlet titled...drum roll please...."The Death of Naturalistic Photography"
In Edward Weston's day books he recounts when he made a concerted change in the way he created photographs that he took all of the glass plates that he had used to make fuzzy-graphs, scrape them all clean and use them to pane the windows in his cabin!