Meeting 2 (April 2012)

The second meeting will be a study day involving junior and senior scholars with relevant research interests. This meeting is scheduled for 13 April 2012, at the Dept of History and Philosophy of Science, Cambridge.

Before the meeting, participants will be asked to post on the project’s website an image with a commentary that engages with the research questions of the network. Submissions need not be specifically about the Royal Society; they may engage with the questions with comparative and/or contextual angles that help us think about how to study the visual characteristics of past scientific practices.

The meeting itself will be divided into two parts – the first part will constitute a commentary session drawing on all the images submitted, and the second part will be a round-table discussion on problems, prospects and methodology of studying the visual characteristics of early modern science.


David Beck, University of Warwick

Ruthie Ezra, University of Cambridge

Martha Fleming

Nathan Flis, University of Oxford

Susannah Gibson, University of Cambridge

Felicity Henderson, The Royal Society of London

Arnold Hunt, British Library

Michael Hunter, Birkbeck College, London

Charlie Jarvis, The Natural History Museum

Eric Jorink, the Huygens Institute

Sachiko Kusukawa, University of Cambridge

Karin Leonhard, Max Planck Institute, Berlin

Scott Mandelbrote, Peterhouse, Cambridge

Jose Marcaida, University of Cambridge

Alexander Marr, University of Southern California

Harriet Palfreymann, University of Warwick

Felicity Roberts

Anna Marie Roos, University of Oxford

Claudia Stein, University of Warwick

Alex Wragge-Morley, University College, London


Summary of the Meeting

The blogs submitted for the workshop collectively brought out the following points

  • The complexity of the process of image-production
  • The need to study images alongside objects and texts, each of which have different trajectories of transmission, rates of survival and reception history
  • The various functions of images, e.g. memory aids, archive; substitute for text; substitute for object; bringing out something less obvious in the object; showing something that the text cannot easily express; as evidence; as argument.
  • The need to take into account the different communities of consumers and users
  • The need to be sensitive to the difference between activities or strategies that may be deemed pertinent to the ‘corporate’ identity of the RS and activities of individuals

The blogs generated the following questions and further points

  • What other types of images (the blogs were predominantly on natural historical topics) are relevant to our research?
  • What are the social and political contexts of truth-claims made for images?
  • The need for a study of the editorial practices, financial arrangements, implications of the choice of media (e.g. engraving over woodcut), and consumer expectations, of the Philosophical Transactions
  • The need for a comparative view with practices at other European courts and academies
  • What should the over-arching historiography for this period be (if it is not to be an onward-march towards the ‘rationalisation of sight’ or any ‘standardisation’ account)?
  • The need to examine how contemporary theories of human cognition related to the practice of knowledge acquisition and dissemination

Reflections on historiography and approaches in history of art and science

  • Digitisations, globalisations, funding-agency initiatives, improvement in publishing techniques, as a background to an increased scholarly interest in the ‘visual’ in recent years, though there were developments and interests predating this (Word and Image, L. Jordanova’s works, the tradition of Bildwissenschaft in art history, etc)
  • The complexity of assessing national/local histories (linguistic/knowledge barriers  & mobility of objects/images) – a fruitful approach may be to look at images as a translational process
  • That historians of science can offer certain insights to objects traditionally studied by art historians (e.g. ‘motif’ histories), and vice versa (Jose offers to write a position paper on Rubens)
  • The picture blogs seem to have focused on certain, similar types of images (drawings, prints) – there is a danger of being self-selective in the pictorial material we study; we should ensure to take into account relevant images in all media.
  • Reconstruction of experiments and craft techniques (e.g. glass-making, taxidermy) add valuable insight and information on practical knowledge
  • Just as scientia and ars in the period were regarded as separable in one way or other, but did not result in mutually exclusive practices or activities, so too, perhaps historians of science, art, the book, ideas and culture should be able to pursue research in this field (e.g. images as vehicles of communication in networks) in a complementary and mutually beneficial way, bringing with them different methodologies and perspectives
  • While there are few sources (e.g. Ray) which offer a sustained account of attitudes towards images, it is possible to infer expectations about what a ‘good’ image for ‘scientific’ books might be: e.g. incidental remarks may be found regarding appreciation of graphic skills and aesthetic judgements; comparative statements (e.g. the delicate structure of Swammerdam’s object being analogous to etching); and the communicative power of art (e.g. in rhetorical terms)

Problems, Challenges and (possible) Solutions

  • When stumped, asking members of this network can be very effective (- worth using the ‘queries’ category on the blogsite)
  • Publication difficulties: problems with having interdisciplinary articles accepted by specialist journals; publishing image-rich articles in Journals may still be a problem, esp. in terms of colour photos (the exception being Early Science and Medicine); substantial subventions are still required for monographs with colour images – these hamper effective communication of research results → on-line peer review journal (cf. ‘Sponge’:
  • Bibliographical database in history of science that catalogues items at the level of book chapters (Isis) (
  • Useful sites for tracking down digitized books:

Digitized Latin texts:

Digitized incunabula:


  • The picture library of the Royal Society is now online: at  (typing in ‘MS 131’ will call up some (though not all) of  interesting images from their ‘scrapbook’ album)
  • Restrictions regarding copyright/permission for reproducing images on websites → we should think of our blogs as a way to demonstrate value of scholarship to institutions – there may well be ad hoc opportunities to negotiate with special collections and libraries to allow us to use their images on the blogsite → a helpful document about scholarly use of visual media can be found at:

Desiderata (from the concrete to the ideal)

  • Digitization of RS minutes (post-Birch): requires funding
  • Digitization of Sloane’s correspondences: requires funding (cf. what has been achieved at the Cultures of Knowledge Project (
  • Exhibition: virtual as well as physical[1]
  • Uses of maps (to show geographic ‘reach’ over time)
  • Pooling of useful information using the blogsite (wiki platform plug-ins: David Beck offers to help) under the headings of:
  • Annotated bibliography on useful secondary sources regarding the production and function of images for this period
  • Information on costs relating to the production of images (including prices of Philosophical Transactions)
  • Contemporary statements indicating aesthetic and other judgements regarding images and image-makers (draughtsmen, engravers, painters, etc)
  • The Royal Society and its wider connections (e.g. names and short biography, if known, of people (esp. artists & craftsmen & printers) connected to FRSs)

[there may be other headings we might like, e.g. an annotated list of bodies that offer grants and support for image acquisition or publication subvention]

[1] One is planned at the RS to coincide with the June meeting.

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