Workshop One

Taxonomy, Translatability and Intelligibility of Scientific Images

17 & 18 June 2016, Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road, Cambridge

Workshop Programme

Richard Waller 'Observations in the dissection of a paroquet' Image © Royal Society
Richard Waller ‘Observations in the dissection of a paroquet’

The establishment of scientific academies (Royal Society 1660, Academie Royale, 1666, Leopoldina 1652/87) is an important development in the history of early modern science as these institutions represented new, collective forms of investigating nature, and gave shape and authority to communities of investigators. The project, ‘Making Visible’, funded by the AHRC, and in partnership with the Royal Society, focuses on the visual and graphic practices to better historicize observational and experimental practices of one such institution, the Royal Society, in its first fifty years. Understanding the functions of images in shaping and disseminating collective natural knowledge requires comparative

Understanding the functions of images in shaping and disseminating collective natural knowledge requires comparative analyses of the functions of image, text and object in communicating knowledge; their effectiveness and limitations in resolving conflicts; and their uses in forming and defining a community. How did graphic craftsmen help visualize objects that had never been seen before? Were images sufficient to prove the veracity of an object, or did they require texts and other forms of persuasion? How ‘transparent’ were meanings of images: could they be understood without understanding the accompanying English text? Did certain types of images broaden the Society’s audience, or limit it? When the Society sought to gather information from far-flung places across the globe using lists and queries, did they also include instructions about aligning ways of visualization? Did images prompt others to collect and examine certain types of objects and problems, rather than others?

The focus of this first workshop is the range of images (e.g. is there such a thing as a ‘scientific’ image?) used by the Royal Society, with a comparative angle (e.g. are there ‘national’ styles of scientific imagery?), and to examine more generally and critically the role of images as vehicles of knowledge transmissions in early modern scientific institutions. Each talk will last for 30 minutes, to allow for full discussion and raise larger questions and historiographic insights. There will be a Round-Table discussion at the end of the workshop to discuss current and future directions of research and collaborations.

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