Call for Papers: Modern Scientific Observing Depicting Disseminating @ Graz

Observing Depicting Disseminating
The Scientific Perspective in the Modern Period

Symposium: 7-9 May 2015; Sign up by 1 February 2015

Celebrating its 10th anniversary, the interdisciplinary Centre for the History of Science at the University of Graz is organising a two-day conference on the topic of “Observing, Depicting and Disseminating” and its relevance for the history of science.

In 1776 the Protestant pastor, librarian and naturalist Jean Senebier (1742-1809) described his ideal of a naturalist in his essay concerning the practices of scientific observation as follows:

For the observer who seeks to enlighten people, it is not sufficient to have noticed a phenomenon. It is necessary that he reveals it to the senses of those who are not observing and that he, by his own example, instructs all those who are unaware of it.”1

Even though scientific work has changed significantly since the 18th century, three components can be found in this quote that still shape our understanding of science today and that have provided the key words for this congress.


Observing – as the foundation of any empirical science – is a fundamental human ability used to encode and understand the natural world. Systemizing scientific observations, theoretically questioning them and finally drawing rule-governed conclusions from them distinguishes scientific observations from everyday experiences. The act of observation played a key role in the emergence of empirical sciences. This ocularcentrism in western sciences is not only based on the established methods of empirical observation and research but also on concepts of epistemology and the perception theories of philosophers like Francis Bacon or John Locke. Inextricably linked to this are the invention, development and usage of scientific instruments that enhanced human perception and opened up new vistas, questions and problems within the realm of scientific observations. To what extent do theory and practice correlate in terms of perception and observation? Which ways of observing can be reconstructed in the history of science? What problems of justification arise due to the usage of scientific instruments? How much does the “scientific perspective” change the way we look at the world?

1 Senebier, Jean: L’art d’observer, Vol. 2, Geneva 1775, S. 2. Own translation.


The many different ways of depicting the visible and the invisible world have always been central to the development of the sciences. They represent comprehensive theoretical concepts, serve as epistemic tools or epitomize the coherences of a natural order. Without depicting the results of scientific work it would be impossible to spread these findings for the purpose of scientific progress. Various forms of depiction and techniques of (re-)presentation – from artistic drawings to computer-generated imaging – illustrate the scientific genesis and refer to a dialectic between observer and the observed. How did the relation between perception and depiction take shape in the course of the history of science? What were the aims of documenting and were these aims fulfilled? How much did documenting influence scientific thought?


Passing on and explaining scientific knowledge has always been necessary both within and outside the scientific community. The results of scientific thinking and activity have always been communicated within scientific institutions, such as universities, academies or scientific societies but also in the wider areas of social life. Therefore, questions concerning the various ways of conveying information arise, as well as questions about the target audience. What forms of conveying information were developed in the course of the history of science and which were actually used? In what way did the active conveying of scientific information influence scientific attitudes and opinions? How did the various ways of disseminating information influence the information itself?

The symposium welcomes scholars of all disciplines interested in the history of science, so that the “scientific perspective” can be approached in an interdisciplinary context from different theoretical standpoints. Questions concerning the general field of observing, depicting and disseminating can be considered as possible contributions, but other suggestions are welcome as long as they address the genesis of sciences and their methods of operating and thinking.

For further details, see the pdf:  ODDCallForPapersEN.

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A four-year Cambridge Post-doctoral fellowship in Art as a Source of Knowledge

Visitors to this site would be interested to know that Churchill College, Cambridge, has advertised a new post-doctoral fellowship:

Jeffrey Rubinoff Fellowship in Art as a Source of Knowledge

Churchill College, Cambridge

Churchill College, Cambridge

A new four-year research fellowship at Churchill College for early career postdoctoral researchers working in the field of Art as a Source of Knowledge, with a focus on the visual arts.

Human interaction with art, whether as creators, commissioners or receivers, by its nature engages the senses, the intellect and the emotions. From it we learn about ourselves, about the physical, social and intellectual world around us, and about wider society and other societies, in terms of culture, ideas, politics, religion and economics. It can be a window into other worlds, otherwise hidden from us. It provides perspective. It teaches us things of which we were scarcely aware, or even completely unaware.

Further details are available on the Churchill website:

And the application is through the Churchill JRF scheme (deadline 16 November 2014):

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Call for Abstracts: Netherlandish Art in its Global Context

Call for Abstracts: Netherlands Yearbook for History of Art / Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek, Volume 66:

BrillNetherlandish Art in its Global Context / De mondiale context van Nederlandse kunst

Netherlandish art testifies in various ways to the increased interconnectivity of the Early Modern world. The Low Countries were an essential node during “First Globalization”: Antwerp and Amsterdam became global capitals while the “world’s first multinational”, the Dutch East India Company, heralded the age of classical capitalism. Fortuitous factors, including successful mercantile logistics, the geographical reach of the Jesuit mission, and the thriving publishing and translation industry made the area a crucible of cultural exchange. Everyday lives changed as foreign luxuries, and local copies, became widely available. Eventually, Dutch imitations of Chinese porcelain found their way to colonists in Surinam. Not only were these objects implicit or explicit repositories of knowledge, carriers of ideas unto which new expectations were projected; the Netherlands also engendered a worldwide public for prints and a surplus of migrant artists. The Low Countries, as a contested fringe area of the Habsburg Empire marked by internal fault lines, demonstrated a unique intellectual flexibility and creative productivity in the first period of intensive artistic exchange between Europe and the rest of the world.

Outside rare products such as Joost van den Vondel’s dramatization of the fall of the Ming dynasty, literary reflections on this new interconnectivity were remarkably scarce. The visual arts are by comparison eloquent testimony to the global dimension of Netherlandish commerce and culture: from paintings depicting exotica to new iconography directed at global proselytization. Some painters seem to have realized this. When Samuel van Hoogstraten, in Introduction to the Academy of Painting (1678), sought to defend the Netherlandish school in comparison to Italy and the ancients, he highlighted its domain as the “entire visible world” and extended his analysis to East Asia and the Americas. He praised Rembrandt’s The Preaching of Saint John (Berlin, Gemäldegalerie) for the international audience it depicted, including an American Indian and a Japanese samurai.

Recent exhibitions have addressed the “Asian” dimension of Netherlandish art. The Rijksmuseum explored the meeting between East and West in De Nederlandse ontmoeting met Azie (2002). The Getty Museum’ s Looking East: Rubens’ s Encounter with Asia (2013) and Asia in Amsterdam (2015, Rijksmuseum / Peabody Essex Museum) focus on the way the East was perceived in Western eyes. The Victoria & Albert Museum examined the question of style with Baroque 1620–1800: Style in the Age of Magnificence (2009).

Scholars are increasingly embracing a worldwide approach and individual case studies have addressed Netherlandish art. Two of the first collective efforts appeared in 2014. Mediating Netherlandish Art and Material Culture in Asia (Kaufmann & North) focuses on the impact of Dutch art, from Persia to Indonesia; Chinese and Japanese Porcelains for the Dutch Golden Age (Van Campen & Eliëns) highlights the unique role of Chinese and Japanese ceramics in Dutch cultural history. Yet an integrated analysis of Netherlandish art from the perspective of global history has not yet been undertaken. Scholars hesitate to re-introduce universalist terms such as “Baroque” or to project back unto the Early Modern situation recent notions of cultural hybridity, imperialism, consumer capitalism, and globalisation.

The next volume of the NKJ intends to explore further the global dimension of Netherlandish art. Contributions are invited which do more than stretch geographical boundaries. In many cases, the trajectory of images of and from the foreign involved “cross-mediality”: being, for instance, first published in print before returning in the applied arts and architecture. The point of origin demands interest, but also the reappropriation in Dutch or Flemish contexts. The editors welcome contributions on the various arts and crafts—including paintings, sculpture, architecture, prints, ceramics, furniture, maps, and models—and their interrelations.

The editors expect not only to bring new case-studies into the discussion but also to contribute to conceptual clarity and directions for future research. What is more, they hope that the comparative approach suggested by global history will put to the test accepted terms of periodization in art history such as “Early Modern”. Themes that may play a role are, amongst others, global versus local; the agency of material culture; imagology; cultural hybridity; network analysis; and the relinquishment of Eurocentric approaches. In addition, contributions may address the growing role of countries outside the West in collecting and studying Netherlandish art in the twenty-first century.

The NKJ is dedicated to a particular theme each year and publishes articles that employ a diversity of approaches to the study of Netherlandish art. For more information, see jaarboek

Contributions to the NKJ (in Dutch, English, German or French) are limited to a maximum of 7,500 words, excluding the notes.

The deadline for submission of proposals is 1 January 2015. Selection of proposals will take place in January and February 2015. The deadline for submission of the full articles for consideration and editorial comment is 15 May 2015. Final decisions on the acceptance of any paper will be made by the editorial board following receipt of the complete text.

Proposals for papers, in the form of a 300-word abstract and a short CV, should be sent to: Eric Jorink (
Frits Scholten (
Thijs Weststeijn (

Deadline: 1 January 2015

Notification: February 2015

Deadline first draft: 15 May 2015



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Ad vivum? call for papers @ Courtauld


** Friday 21 and Saturday 22 November 2014** (please note revised dates)

Organised by Professor Joanna Woodall and Dr Thomas Balfe.

The Courtauld Institute of Art, Somerset House, Strand, London WC2R 0RN


The term ad vivum and its cognates al vivo, au vif, nach dem Leben and naer het leven have been applied since the thirteenth century to depictions designated as from, to or after (the) life. This one and a half day event will explore the issues raised by this vocabulary in relation to visual materials produced and used in Europe before 1800, including portraiture, botanical, zoological, medical and topographical images, images of novel and newly discovered phenomena, and likenesses created through direct contact with the object being depicted, such as metal casts of animals.

It is has long been recognised that the designation ad vivum was not restricted to depictions made directly after the living model, and that its function was often to advertise the claim of an image to be a faithful likeness or a bearer of reliable information. Viewed as an assertion of accuracy or truth, ad vivum raises a number of fundamental questions about early modern epistemology – questions about the value and prestige of visual and/or physical contiguity between image and original, about the kinds of information which were thought important and dependably transmissible in material form, and about the roles of the artist in this transmission. The recent interest of historians of early modern art in how value and meaning are produced and reproduced by visual materials which do not conform to the definition of art as unique invention, and of historians of science and of art in the visualisation of knowledge, has placed the questions surrounding ad vivum at the centre of their common concerns.

This event will encourage conversation and interchange between different perspectives involving a wide range of participants working in different disciplines, from postgraduate students to established academics. It seeks to encourage dialogue and debate by devoting a portion of its time to sessions comprising short, 10-minute papers, which will allow a variety of ideas and areas of expertise to be drawn into the discussion.

Topics may include, but are not limited to:

  •  The role of images, including book illustrations, described as ad vivum in early modern natural history, geography, cosmography, medicine and other investigative disciplines;
  •  The meanings of ad vivum in relation to sacred images, portraiture, landscape depiction, animal imagery, and other types of subject matter involving a claim to life-likeness;
  •  The connections between ad vivum and indexical images: death masks; life casts; the moulage; auto-prints made from natural phenomena;
  •  The connections between concepts of ad vivum and graphic media: the print matrix; imitation and reproduction in print; drawings, diagrams which claim to be ad vivum;
  •  The concept of ad vivum in cabinets of curiosities, sets and series, other groupings and collections;
  •  The application of the phrase ad vivum and its cognates to specific images, and usages and discussions of the terminology in early modern texts;
  •  The use of ad vivum in relation to images of the marvellous and the incredible, including monsters and other prodigies of nature.

We invite proposals for:

  •  20-minute papers
  •  Short, 10-minute (maximum 1,000-word) papers which will address one example or theme, or make one argument persuasively

Please send proposals of no more than 250 words by 15 August 2014 to and

PDF of the call is here

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Vivitur Ingenio: a virtual exhibition of Vesalius’s Fabrica and Epitome @ Cambridge

Vivitur Ingenio: a virtual exhibition of Vesalius’s Fabrica and Epitome

Vesalius, Fabrica 1543, p. 164 (C) National Library of Medicine, Bethesda

Vesalius, Fabrica 1543, p. 164 (C) National Library of Medicine, Bethesda

‘Vivitur ingenio, caeteris mortis erunt’ – one lives on by the spirit, the rest shall belong to death – was a line commonly attributed to Virgil lamenting the death of his patron Maecenas (though we now know that the poet died before his patron). It is a phrase that adorns one of the most enduring images in On the fabric of the human body by Andreas Vesalius. He was born 500 years ago in 1514; he died fifty years later, in 1564. To mark the 500th anniversary of his birth, I have curated an online exhibition of several rare books from the wonderful collection at the University Library of Cambridge.   The exhibition link is here:

Albrecht Duerer, Engraving of Willibald Pirckheimer (1524) Wikimedia.

Albrecht Duerer, Engraving of Willibald Pirckheimer (1524) Wikimedia.

The Virgilian phrase was used earlier by Albrecht Dürer in his engraving portrait of his humanist friend, Willibald Pirckheimer, and deployed later by the astronomer Tycho Brahe as a decoration to one of his instruments, as explained in the Astronomiae Instauratae Mechanica – see the coloured version with English translation at the Royal Library of Denmark here.


I was quite struck by not only how often Vesalius’s image of the skeleton was copied , but also how the notion of ‘ingenium’ seems to have become important for those engaged in the study of nature. Perhaps Vesalius’s image of the skeleton was one medium through which the idea of ‘ingenium’ circulated. Thus I felt it fitting to use the phrase as a motto for the exhibition.


An advantage of a digital exhibition is that it can show many pages from the same book, juxtapose pages from different books, and show elements that are difficult to appreciate (such as continuous background landscapes) in a book in situ. The zooming facility enables us to see the extraordinary details achieved by woodcut in the Fabrica. The experience of the twenty-first-century viewer of the Fabrica is thus quite different from Vesalius’s contemporaries, who complained that some of the details were not readily visible.


Part of the paper manikin of a coloured manikin from Vesalius Epitome (1543) (C) Cambridge University Library

Part of the paper manikin from Vesalius’s Epitome (1543) (C) Cambridge University Library

Cambridge University Library also took this occasion to digitize fully its extraordinary coloured copy of Vesalius’s Epitome, the companion volume to the Fabrica. Happily, in this copy of the Epitome, the cut-out, ‘pop-up’ paper manikin has survived.  You can see the book here.

I have particularly enjoyed examining the coloured frontispiece of the Epitome (the same woodcut as the one used in the Fabrica), as the colouring brings out the details of the crowded theatrical scene of the black-and-white woodcut. We know very little at this point of the original provenance of this copy of the Epitome – for whom it was made and coloured. It is not clear, for example, whether or how it might relate to the lavishly coloured copy of the Fabrica that Vesalius dedicated to Emperor Charles V. This copy was sold at Christies NY in 1998, from the collection of the Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine, and its frontispiece can be examined in some detail at the website of New York Public Library (remnant of the 1999/2000 exhibition ‘Seeing is Believing’).

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Joint Fellowship MPIWG Berlin Ateliergebouw Amsterdam (3 Months in 2015)

And here’s another excellent opportunity for those interested in ‘knowing and making’!

Max Planck Research Group Art and Knowledge in Pre-Modern Europe; Director: Prof. Dr. Sven Dupré

in collaboration with

the Faculty of Humanities of the University of Amsterdam, Conservation and Restoration of Cultural Heritage programme; contact: drs. Suzanne Maarschalkerweerd, programme manager C&R)


one fellowship for three months between January 1 and December 31, 2015.

The tenure of the fellowship is to be divided between the two institutes: the first and third months will be spent at the MPIWG, the second month at the UvA (“Ateliergebouw”). The fellow will be offered research facilities at both institutions. Outstanding junior and senior scholars (including those on sabbatical leave from their home institutions) are invited to apply. Candidates should hold a doctorate or should be engaged with research in the history of science and technology, in the history of art and art technology, in conservation and restoration or in a related field at the time of application and show evidence of scholarly promise in the form of publications and other achievements.

Research proposals should address the history of knowledge and art and culture up to the eighteenth century, and may concern any geographical area within Europe, and any object of the visual and decorative arts. Projects related to ongoing projects, esp. ‘early modern materials and art technologies’ at the Max Planck Research Group Art and Knowledge in Pre-Modern Europe will receive preference.

The proposal should make clear how the project would benefit from the resources and contribute to the research culture of the programme Conservation and Restoration of Cultural heritage from the University of Amsterdam.

Visiting fellows are expected to take part in the scientific life of the Institute, to advance their own research project, and to actively contribute to the relevant project of the Max Planck Research Group Art and Knowledge in Pre-Modern Europe.

The Max Planck Institute for the History of Science is an international and interdisciplinary research institute ( The colloquium language is English; it is expected that candidates will be able to present their own work and discuss that of others fluently in that language.

Fellowships are endowed with a monthly stipend of 1.365 € (predoctoral fellows), between 2.100 € and 2.500 € (postdoctoral fellows from abroad) or between 1.468 € and 1.621 € (postdoctoral fellows from Germany), whereas senior scholars receive an honorary commensurate with experience.

The Max Planck Institute for the History of Science covers also the round trip travel costs from the fellow’s home institution and a round trip Berlin-Amsterdam.

The University of Amsterdam traces its roots back to 1632, when the Golden Age school Athenaeum Illustre was established to train students in trade and philosophy. Today, with some 30,000 students, 5,000 staff and a budget of more than 600 million euros, it is one of the largest comprehensive universities in Europe. Teaching and research at the UvA are conducted at seven faculties including Humanities. Over time, the UvA has risen to international prominence as a research university, gaining an excellent reputation in both fundamental and socially relevant research.

The UvA’s thriving doctoral programmes provide an excellent foundation for engaging in high-quality teaching and research. The UvA seeks to offer an inspiring international academic environment in which both staff and students can develop their talents optimally. The result of a merger between the Faculties of Arts, Philosophy and Theology in 1997, the Faculty of Humanities not only houses an assortment of established and respected disciplines, including Art History, History and  Archaeology but also such pioneering research fields as Conservation and Restoration. One of the important components of the humanities is ‘culture’. Aligning with the existing research of the Faculty, the academic orientation on ‘culture’ can be enclosed in an historical and an analytical approach.

The UvA is the only Dutch university offering the study programme Conservation and Restoration (consisting of eight specialisations). The restoration of objects and research remain core aspects of the programme, which takes five years to complete. The eight specialisations each have their own atelier where objects are worked on under supervision. Researchers from the Cultural Heritage Agency and conservators of the Rijksmuseum work together with UvA students and lecturers in the Ateliergebouw, a building with laboratories and studio’s. The Ateliergebouw is also the home of the Dutch centre of expertise of conservation research and art technology in the Netherlands (under construction). Conservation and Restoration is a relatively new academic discipline. Research in conservation must be relevant to the  restoration process, with a fair amount of collaboration taking place with art historians and scientists. The research results of lecturers and students are actively disseminated at (inter)national congresses, symposiums and lectures. The UvA will offer a workplace as well as access to all facilities.

The Visiting Fellow will be based in the Ateliergebouw and be expected to participate to the research culture of the centre. S/he will be expected to contribute a research seminar and to provide some guest lectures for the students of the programme during the period of the fellowship. Candidates of all nationalities are encouraged to apply; applications from women are especially welcome.The Max Planck Society is committed to promoting handicapped individuals and encourages them to apply.

Candidates are requested to submit a curriculum vitae (including list of publications), a research proposal on a topic related to the project (750 words maximum), one sample of writing (i.e. article or book chapter), and names and addresses of two referees (including email) who have already been contacted by the applicant to assure their willingness to submit letters of recommendation if requested, under:

by August 4, 2014.

A committee with representatives from the Max Planck Institute and the UvA will assess the applications. Successful candidates will be notified before September 15.

For questions concerning the Max Planck Research Group on Art and Knowledge in Pre-Modern Europe, please see or contact Sven Dupré (; for administrative questions concerning the position and the Institute, please contact Claudia Paaß (, Head of Administration, or Jochen Schneider (, Research Coordinator. For enquiries concerning the C&R’s component of the fellowship, please contact drs. Suzanne Maarschalkerweerd, programme manager C&R, FGw, University of Amsterdam ( For more information about the UvA and its resources, visit the website (

Traces of Damage to Rembrandt's Night Watch (1975)

Traces of Damage to Rembrandt’s Night Watch (1975)

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Project Editor Post for the Casebook Project at Cambridge

Some visitors to this site might be interested to know about the following job opportunity.

Casebooks Project Editor (Research Assistant/Associate)

Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge

The Department seeks to appoint an Editor to work on The Casebooks Project: A Digital Edition of Simon Forman’s and Richard Napier’s Medical Records, 1596-1634 (

The Casebooks Project is making one of the most extensive surviving sets of medical records in history publicly available. It combines the highest level of scholarship with cutting-edge digital humanities. Casebooks is directed by Dr Lauren Kassell and has been funded by a series of major awards from the Wellcome Trust. The successful candidate will join the project team to work full-time transcribing and coding Richard Napier’s casebooks. He or she will also contribute to academic, educational and public engagement activities from time to time.

It is essential for candidates to have:

an aptitude for detailed, systematic work,

the ability to read difficult handwriting,

and be capable of working both independently and as part of a team


The following would be desirable:

* expertise in early modern history, especially the histories of medicine, religion, astrology and the family

* proficiency in seventeenth-century palaeography

* at least rudimentary Latin

* experience of XML and TEI

We will train the successful applicant in the necessary skills to do this work. This would be an ideal position for a recent graduate planning to pursue a career in history or digital humanities, or a postdoctoral scholar seeking experience working on a major collaborative project.

Once an offer of employment has been accepted, the successful candidate will be required to undergo a health assessment.

Fixed-term: The funds for this post are available until 30 June 2017

Please ensure that you upload the following:

1) A covering letter, stating why you want to work on Casebooks and what makes you a good candidate for this job

2) An up-to-date cv, including any publications

Schedule Closing Date: 11 July 2014

Shortlisting: 16 July 2014

Interviews: 7 August 2014 (videoconferencing will be available where required)

Salary: £24,289-£36,661 For more information about the Casebooks Project: and the HPS Department:

Any queries should be emailed to or you can contact us on 01223 334540.

To apply online for this vacancy, please follow this link <> and click on the ‘Apply’ button at the bottom of the advert. This will route you to the University’s Web Recruitment System, where you will need to register an account (if you have not already) and log in before completing the online application form. Please quote reference JN03549 on your application and in any correspondence about this vacancy.

The University values diversity and is committed to equality of opportunity.

The University has a responsibility to ensure that all employees are eligible to live and work in the UK.

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Workshop at Southampton: Looking at Images 21 May & 19 June

Posted on behalf of the Winchester School of Art, University of Southampton

We would like to invite postgraduate and early career researchers to take part in an AHRC-funded project: Looking at Images: A Researcher’s Guide. Two workshops are scheduled for those working in the areas of image studies, visual culture, media and communications, and art and design. Together the workshops are aimed at the development of skills and methodologies in image-related research. All participants will be invited to contribute to a collaboratively produced ‘Researcher’s Guide’ e-book, to be launched at the end of the year at the British Library as a key resource for the wider research community.

Workshop 1: Picturing Research / Researching Pictures Wednesday 21 May 2014 Winchester School of Art Full details and booking available online:

Workshop 2: Image Research and its Futures Thursday 19 June 2014 Goldsmiths Full details and booking available online:

Both events are free, but booking is required. If you have any queries please contact:<>

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Looking at Images Workshop May & June 2014

Call for Participants: Looking at Images

Posted on behalf of the Winchester School of Art, University of Southampton; see contact information below.

Wellcome Library, London

Wellcome Library, London

We would like to invite postgraduate and early career researchers to take part in an AHRC-funded project: Looking at Images: A Researcher’s Guide. Two workshops are scheduled for those working in the areas of image studies, visual culture, media and communications, and art and design. Together the workshops are aimed at the development of skills and methodologies in image-related research. All participants will be invited to contribute to a collaboratively produced ‘Researcher’s Guide’ e-book, to be launched at the end of the year at the British Library as a key resource for the wider research community.

Workshop 1: Picturing Research / Researching Pictures Wednesday 21 May 2014 Winchester School of Art Full details and booking available online:

Workshop 2: Image Research and its Futures Thursday 19 June 2014 Goldsmiths Full details and booking available online:

Both events are free, but booking is required. If you have any queries please contact:<>

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Coping with Copia in Art and Science (2015) call for papers

Coping with Copia:  Epistemological Excess in Early Modern Art and Science

Call for papers for a conference in Montreal, May 14-16, 2015

Fabian Krämer (History of Science, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität
Munich, Germany)  and Itay Sapir (Art History, Université du Québec à Montréal, Canada)

Arcimboldo, the Librarian, wikimedia commons

Arcimboldo, the Librarian, wikimedia commons

We are living in an era of unprecedented information overload. This is  one of the most common clichés defining the early 21st century, both in  academic circles and in general public imagery. And, as clichés often  do, this one encapsulates some elements of truth. The Internet era is  indeed, quantitatively at least, the scene of the most formidable
multiplication of readily available information of any kind humanity has  ever experienced. A considerable portion of this information comes in  visual form: we have more and more images and diagrams of all kinds of  things at our disposal, and we often wish – this is perhaps a broader  anthropological phenomenon – to give visual figure to information that is not quintessentially meant to address the eyes.

The “unprecedented” nature of our contemporary overload may be less  clear than we tend to think, however. Some periods in the past were  confronted with a similar cultural situation, considering both the  objective growth in available information and the subjective impression  of living in an era of unprecedented epistemological saturation. An emblematic moment of this kind was the sixteenth and seventeenth century  in Europe, the two centuries that led up to, and witnessed, the now  often contested “Scientific Revolution”, a period characterised also by  geographical expansion and aesthetic subversion. Then, as now, optimism about the prospects of knowledge was inextricably mingled with fears of having “too much to know,” to borrow the title of Ann Blair’s seminal monograph – and of the impossibility of selecting, organizing, and finally making sense of the ever increasing amount of information facing  our early modern predecessors. Then, as now, artists and scholars were at the forefront of the struggle to digest and discipline knowledge – or, conversely, to denounce its overabundance and express our human failure to meaningfully organize what we know. Then, as now, they also unwittingly contributed to the very copia that they so frequently bemoaned.

Indeed, epistemic abundance is a constant challenge to those people whose function in society is to represent different facets of reality. Arguably the two most prominent professions regularly producing visual representations of the world – be they all-embracing or specific, systematic or seemingly random – are those of scientists and visual artists. In their professional universes, more often than not completely separate from one another, practitioners of science and of art try – and have tried in the past – to give form and order to the epistemological saturation around them. Or they strive, on the contrary, to represent precisely the irrepresentability of a multifaceted and seemingly
inexhaustible reality. At the same time, we should not conceive of artists and scientists as purely reactive vis-à-vis the multiplication of available knowledge but, rather, consider their role also in bringing it about in the first place.

The different strategies conceived for the visual representation (or denunciation) of information overload, as well as the sometimes unintentional creation of even more information along the way, will lie at the heart of the conference that Montreal will host in 2015, welcoming historians, art historians, historians of science and of ideas and scholars of related disciplines. While proposed papers for the conference should address the early modern period, sessions will be accompanied by respondents from the field of contemporary science and art, who will comment on the relevance of the historical example to our own time.

In the artistic field, the aesthetic and epistemological strategies of contemporary artists and of painters and sculptors of the late Renaissance, Mannerism and the early Baroque indeed offer fertile ground for comparison, contrasting and mutual illumination. If one can convincingly tell the story of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century art as a series of attempts at visually representing knowledge and at repressing the unbearable complexity of such an enterprise—a narrative that this conference offers to verify and elaborate upon – one can arguably claim that art around 2000 is concerned by a surprisingly
similar predicament and that, conversely, modernity in art has its roots in a relatively distant past.

As for science and its own visual policies, the proliferation of images in contemporary cognitive science, amongst other fields, and the high expectations often attached to them, are reminiscent of a similar upsurge of the use of images in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century natural history, and the simultaneous rise of diagrammatical forms of
representing and ordering knowledge. Visual strategies were used both to visualise epistemic objects and thus generate knowledge about them and to order and parse this knowledge. The concerns with “Big Data” in contemporary science also arguably have a precedent in the attempts of early modern scholars to gather and parse the huge amounts of information on all sorts of “natural particulars” (Grafton & Siraisi) that they gathered and shared through their correspondence networks.

We invite proposals from the history of science, the history of art, and adjacent disciplines. Please send abstracts of no more than 300 words (including the title), for papers in English or in French, to Fabian Kraemer ( and Itay Sapir ( by  May 31, 2014.

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