Tuesday, March 21, 2017

CFP - Extraordinary Bodies in Early Modern Nature and Culture

An international workshop at Uppsala University, Sweden, October 26–27, 2017

A wealth of literature has shed light on religious, philosophical, scientific and medical concepts of extraordinary bodies, wonders and monsters in the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Lorraine Daston and Katharine Park have been tremendously influential with their Wonders and the order of nature (1998) and in many ways contributed to our understanding of emotions and the monstrous before 1750. One of their suggestions is that there was no enlightenment, disenchantment, or clear pattern of naturalization, of monsters in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Monstrous births were explained by natural causes, such as a narrow womb or an excess of seed, already by medieval writers whereas they could still be read as divine signs in the late seventeenth century. No linear story took monsters from an older religious framework to a newer naturalistic one or from prodigies to wonders to naturalized objects. Wonders eventually lost their position as cherished elements in European elite culture but that had nothing to do with secularization, the “rise of science”, or some triumph of rational thinking. Rather, the emergence of strict norms and absolute regularity, both of nature’s customs and God’s rules, is a better description of this shift. Nature’s habits hardened into inviolable laws in the late seventeenth century and Daston and Park picture “the subordination of anomalies to watertight natural laws, of nature to God, and of citizens and Christians to established authority”. Monsters became, in an anatomical framework, compared to normal bodies and regarded as organisms that had failed to achieve their perfect final form. Their value now depended, not as it had earlier on their rarity or singularity, but on the body’s capacity to reveal still more rigid regularities in nature.

The history of monsters as submitted to strict norms in early modern nature is intriguing and a number of questions can be raised. Had all bodies by 1750 become part of a regularized nature or can monsters still be found in science in the late eighteenth century? What else do we know about normalizing processes in the early modern period? In the field of the deviant, has there been a general shift from natural rules to moral orders, from bodies to behavior? What other aspects of extraordinary bodies are there that can help us frame early modern nature and culture, to grasp its orders and disorders?

The purpose of this workshop is to bring together scholars from different fields to discuss current research on extraordinary bodies and monsters in natural history, medicine, law, religion, philosophy, and travel literature in the early modern period. It will comprise of an invited talk, paper presentations and a concluding general discussion.

We especially welcome research relating to topics such as:
  • Concepts of monsters in natural philosophy/history and medicine
  • Transgressions – species, individuals, elements, life and death
  • Anatomy, embryology and obstetrics
  • Bodies, signs and religion
  • The visual culture of the extraordinary body
  • Physical deviances and the law
  • Normalization and medicalization
  • Collections of wonders and curiosities
  • Classification
  • Moral and natural rules and orders
  • Embryos in medical research and education
  • Linnaeus, wonders and paradoxes of nature
  • Travel and the meaning of distant and exotic bodies
  • The politics of monster history

Abstracts for papers of 200-300 words should be submitted no later than June 1, 2017 to Helena Franzén: helena.franzen@idehist.uu.se

Please provide your full name, institutional affiliation, and contact details. The format of the workshop will not allow for more than c. 10 papers. We will select the abstracts to be presented at the meeting considering original research and relevance to the theme of the workshop. By June 15, 2017 applicants will be notified if their papers have been accepted or not.

The workshop will be two full days, i.e. morning to late afternoon October 26–27, 2017.

Registration, lunches, conference dinner and accommodation (two nights at the conference hotel) are free of charge for participants presenting papers. It will also be possible to obtain limited economic support for travel expenses. Please indicate in the application if such support is required for attendance and what level of support is needed.

There are a few places available for additional participants. The deadline for such applications is also June 1, 2017. For those interested, please indicate your reasons for wanting to take part in the conference. No economic support will be given to attendees who do not present papers.

The conference language is English.

This workshop is organized by the research programme “Medicine at the Borders of Life: Fetal Research and the Emergence of Ethical Controversy”, funded by the Swedish Research Council and hosted by the Department of History of Science and Ideas at Uppsala University.

Maja Bondestam, Uppsala University

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Easter Term 2017 - Water

In Easter Term our exploration of the four elements reaches the water. Appropriately enough for this most protean of substances, we will engage with several forms of media: a poem, a short story, a play, and two essays. In very different ways, these works comment on the relationships between literature and water: experiencing and analysing, surviving and following, cherishing and chronicling its varied appearances as river, rain, ice, and sea.

We will meet at Darwin College from 7.30-9pm as usual. All are welcome to join us, whether new or old members of the group! Follow us on Twitter @scilitreadgrp or look at our blog for full news and updates.

8th May – River

Alice Oswald, Dart (2002). Also in several College and University libraries.

22nd May – Rain

Ray Bradbury, 'Death-By-Rain', Planet Stories (1950). Republished as 'The Long Rain' in several collections of his short stories, or contact MK for a copy.

5th June – Ice

Wilkie Collins, The Frozen Deep (written 1856, published 1866).

26th June – Sea

R.L. Carson, 'Undersea', Atlantic Monthly (1937), 322-325; and 'The Edge of the Sea', address to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1953). Republished in Linda Lear (ed.), Lost Woods: The Discovered Writing of Rachel Carson (1999), or contact MK for a copy.

Recap - Flight

Experiments in photographic aeronautics.
Buoyed by sparkling beverages and bubbly chocolate, our conversations at the last meeting of term took to the air, reading Thomas Baldwin's Airopaidia (1786) and considering the poetry, practicalities, and potential pitfalls of balloon voyages.

Using Richard Holmes's Falling Upwards (2013), and Marie Thébaud-Sorger's 'Thomas Baldwin’s Airopaidia, or the Aerial View in Color' in Seeing from Above: The Aerial View in Visual Culture, Mark Dorrian, Frédéric Pousin (eds), (2013), we thought about the new kinds of experiences which Baldwin was trying to convey with his narrative. We felt that Baldwin had communicated well the exhiliration and novel sensory impressions of his flight, though perhaps he had exaggerated its tranquillity. Looking at the extraordinary images which accompany the text helped think about how Baldwin charted his journey, making myriad observations, and also how he was challenged by new aerial perspectives.

We were left wanting to know more about Baldwin himself: though evidently physically present, from top to toe to taste-buds, in the balloon, and clearly familiar with the local Chester landscape, in other ways he was frustratingly absent. We could find out more about his balloon-supplier Lunardi (including his unfortunate inclusion of his pet cat as part of his aerial cargo) than we could about Baldwin. In some ways, then, by combining a very specific account of one balloon voyage with an inclusive narrative voice, Baldwin enabled any of his readers to imagine they were alongside him above the clouds.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Seminar - 'Brainwashing the Cybernetic Spectator: The Ipcress File, 1960's Cinematic Spectacle and the Sciences of Mind'

14 March 2017, 12:00 - 13:30pm, Seminar room SG2, Alison Richard Building, CRASSH

Dr Marcia Holmes (History, Birkbeck)
Discussant: Dr Dan Larsen  (History, Cambridge) 

This paper argues that the mid-1960s saw a dramatic shift in how 'brainwashing' was popularly imagined, reflecting Anglo-American developments in the sciences of mind as well as shifts in mass media culture. The 1965 British film, The Ipcress File (dir. Sidney J. Furie, starr. Michael Caine) provides a rich case for exploring these interconnections between mind control, mind science, and media, as it exemplifies the era's innovations for depicting 'brainwashing' on screen: the film's protagonist is subjected to flashing lights and electronic music, pulsating to the 'rhythm of brainwaves'. This paper describes the making of The Ipcress File's brainwashing sequence, and shows how its quest for cinematic spectacle drew on developments in cybernetic science, multimedia design and modernist architecture (developments that were also influencing the 1960s' psychedelic counterculture). I argue that often interposed between the disparate endeavours of 1960s mind control, psychological science, and media was a vision of the human mind as a 'cybernetic spectator': a subject who not only scrutinizes how media and other demands on her sensory perception can affect consciousness, but seeks to consciously participate in this mental conditioning and guide its effects.

(Dr Holmes's paper will be pre-circulated and may be read in advance. You can receive a copy by emailing lsp33@cam.ac.uk)

Talk - 'Polyphonic Minds'

Peter Pesic (St. John's College, Santa Fe)
Sunday 19 March: 1400-1500 -- Faculty of Music, Lecture Room 1

Peter Pesic is Tutor and Musician-in-Residence at St. John's College, Santa Fe. He is the author of Labyrinth: A Search for the Hidden Meaning of Science; Seeing Double: Shared Identities in Physics, Philosophy, and Literature; Abel's Proof: An Essay on the Sources and Meaning of Mathematical Unsolvability; and Sky in a Bottle, all published by the MIT Press.

Talk - 'Climate in word and image: science and the Austrian idea'

Deborah Coen (Columbia University), History and Philosophy of Science Departmental Seminar, Thursday, 16 March at 3:30pm

One of the most urgent challenges of climate research today is that of conceptualizing interactions across scales of space and time. In her book in progress, Deborah Coen examines how this problem was addressed in the late Habsburg Monarchy, where scientists developed an unprecedented conceptual apparatus for tracking the transfer of energy from the molecular scale to the planetary. Her presentation will offer an overview of this project. The central argument is that these innovations arose in part as a solution to a problem of representation, a problem that engaged Habsburg scientists as servants of a supranational state. The problem was to represent local differences while producing a coherent overview; that is, to do justice to the vaunted diversity of the Habsburg lands while reinforcing the impression of unity. This problem was worked out at the interface between physical and human geography, and it stimulated technical innovations across a range of media, from cartography, to landscape painting, to fiction and poetry, to mathematical physics, while also shaping political discourse. In this way, Climate in Word and Image writes the history of climate science as a history of scaling: the process of mediating between different systems of measurement, formal and informal, designed to apply to different slices of the phenomenal world, in order to arrive at a common standard of proportionality. A focus on scaling emphasizes not only the cognitive work of commensuration, but also the corporeal, emotional and social effort that goes into recalibrating our sense of the near in relation to the far.

Tea and biscuits will be available from 3pm in Seminar Room 1

Seminar Location:
Seminar Room 2
Department of the History and Philosophy of Science
Free School Lane

Following the talk we will go to the pub, and on to dinner. All are welcome! If you would like to join dinner, please contact Richard Staley (raws1@cam.ac.uk)

Friday, March 10, 2017

Book launch - 'Astronomouse'

A launch party for the book Astronomouse, by Frances Willmoth, will be held at the Whipple Museum on Friday 17 March, 4.30-6pm. Everyone is welcome to attend.

The book describes the building of the Royal Observatory at Greenwich (1675-76) from the unique viewpoint of the local mouse population. It is beautifully illustrated with line-drawings. Further details may be found at www.astronomouse.com (RRP £8.99 - £8.00 at the launch party).

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Talk - 'Fakhr al-Din al-Razi's Physics: Time, Space and Void'

Peter Adamson (Professor für spätantike und arabische Philosophie, LMU München)

Monday 13th March, 4pm, Lightfoot Room, Faculty of Divinity.

All are welcome.

Fakhr al-Din al-Razi (d. 1210) was a great Persian philosopher and theologian, famous for his lengthy, rich commentary on the Koran, for his theological works, and for his critical reception the philosophy of Avicenna (d. 1037).

Peter Adamson is a leading scholar of Arabic philosophy:

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

CASEBOOKS: Six contemporary artists and an extraordinary medical archive

The exhibition is accompanied by a series of events, beginning with the Private View on Thursday 16 March and the Artists and Curator Seminar on Friday 17 March. All events take place at Ambika P3 (opposite Baker Street tube). Details online and below.


CASEBOOKS: Six contemporary artists and an extraordinary medical archive
Jasmina Cibic, Federico Díaz, Lynn Hershman Leeson, Rémy Markowitsch, Lindsay Seers, Tunga

Private View: Thursday 16 March 2017, 6:30 - 8:30pm, Ambika P3, University of Westminster, 35 Marylebone Road, London NW1 5LS, Baker Street Station

Exhibition continues: 17 March - 23 April 2017



Fri 17 March 2017, 4 - 6 pm Ambika P3, University of Westminster, 35 Marylebone Road, London NW1 5LS, Baker Street Station. Book a place here.

The CASEBOOKS exhibition is one of the most collaborative projects to take place at Ambika P3. It brings together researchers on the Casebooks Project, based at the University of Cambridge, with the curatorial team at the University of Westminster. This seminar is an opportunity to explore the issues brought about by the exhibition from the perspective of the artists and the Ambika P3 curator. Artists will present their projects and a round table will be convened to discuss the following topics:
  • How did the artists engage with the Casebooks Project ? 
  • What are the levels at which audiences engage with the artworks and the historical and digital artefacts through the exhibition?
  • Have the casebooks provided a common theme to the exhibition?
  • Can a collaborative exhibition such as this create new links between art, history and science?
Participants: The panel will consist of the exhibiting artists or their representatives and Dr Michael Mazière, Curator of Ambika P3. The Seminar will be chaired by Dr Lauren Kassell, Director of the Casebooks Project.

4.00 – 4.15: Introductions Lauren Kassell Michael Mazière
4.15 – 5.15: Artists' presentations
Jasmina Cibic: Unforseen Foreseens; Federico Díaz: BIG LIGHT Space of Augmented Suggestion
; Mark Hellar: Lynn Hershman Leeson’s, Real-Fiction Botnik and Venus of the Anthropocene; Rémy Markowitsch: The Casebooks Calf; Lindsay Seers: Mental Metal
; Rana Saner: Tunga’s Me, You and the Moon
5.15 – 6.00: Round table and Q&A from the audience chaired by Lauren Kassell
6.00 – 6.30: Drinks

Visit our website for the latest updates to the Casebooks Project: A Digital Edition of Simon Forman's and Richard Napier's Medical Records.

Saturday, March 04, 2017

HPS Coffee with Scientists: The Social Challenges of Lab Work

***A screening of a short documentary film on the social challenges of lab work.***

In 2015, I interviewed six early career scientists about the social difficulties they faced in lab environments. My interviewees wanted to share stories of work-place bullying, gender issues, ways of dealing with toxic individuals, and the pressures of the peer-review process. Two of them had decided to leave research.

To ensure anonymity, I asked actors to read out the transcripts of the interviews. I then rearranged that material into a 20-minute short film. My hope is that the documentary ("Social Science") will give a sense of the kinds of social difficulties behind the wider "leaky pipeline" problem, where young, talented women leave science after completing their PhDs.

In this session of "Coffee with scientists", we will screen the short film, discuss the issues raised by the interviewees, and consider ways in which HPS researchers could throw light on some of the social and political problems in the sciences using filmmaking and other media.

Hope to see many of you there.

Karoliina Pulkkinen
PhD student at HPS

Friday, March 03, 2017

Next Term - Water

Our aquatic reading list is coming together for next term (at the moment: Bradbury, Carson, Collins, Oswald): meanwhile, here are the scheduled dates for our meetings.

Additional links to whet (wet?) your appetite:

Noisy Embyros

Dates: 9 – 25 March
Private View: Thursday 16 March, 5.00pm
Noisy Embryos is a multi-channel, audio-visual installation that reflects on the relationship between scientists and the animals they observe by juxtaposing videos of snail embryos generated under laboratory conditions with the 'messiness' of the natural environment and of the process of data collection in the field. It draws on interdisciplinary research carried out by artists Deborah Robinson and David Strang and biologist Simon Rundle during field trips at locations used by naturalist Carl Linnaeus and film maker Andrei Tarkovsky on the Swedish island of Gotland.

Cambridge Science Festival 2017:

Noisy Embryos: From the bane of embryology to indicators of the Anthropocene
Thursday 16 March, 6.30pm-8pm
This interdisciplinary talk links the history of variation in embryology (Nick Hopwood, Cambridge) to the current use of embryos as indicators of climate change (Simon Rundle, Plymouth) to introduce how the audio-visual exhibition Noisy Embryos (Deborah Robinson and David Strang, Plymouth) responds to the uses of embryos in scientific research.
This talk will take place in room RUS110, in the Ruskin Building, no need to book, just turn up. 
We look forward to seeing you at the Ruskin Gallery