Cfp: Art and Science in the Early Modern Low Countries

From the Enfilade mailing list:

Art and Science in the Early Modern Low Countries
Amsterdam, 17–18 September 2015
Proposals due by 15 April 2015

Anticipating plans for a future exhibition on Art and Science in the Early Modern Low Countries (ca 1550–1730), the Rijksmuseum and the Huygens Institute for the History of the Netherlands (Royal Dutch Academy of Arts and Sciences) organize a preliminary, two-day conference. This event will take place at the Rijksmuseum (September 17th) and the Trippenhuis (September 18th) in Amsterdam.

The Low Countries were flourishing in the early Modern Period, influenced by developments in Northern Italy and Southern Germany. First Antwerp and later Amsterdam emerged as centers of artistic and scientific innovation and creativity, and as nodal points in the exchange of goods, knowledge and skills. It is certainly no coincidence that a high level of artistic productivity in the Low Countries coincided with the so-called ‘Scientific Revolution’. Seen from a contemporary point of view, ars and scientia were complementary concepts, rather than opposites.

The aim of the conference is to explore the possibilities, prospects and also the pitfalls of the conjunction of ‘art and science’, and to contribute to the developing conversation between historians of art, historians of science and everyone interested in the visual and material culture of the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Low Countries. The organizers look forward to receiving original submissions that address the relationships between art and science on both a material and a conceptual level.

Proposals which take objects, works of art, images, or illustrated texts as their point of departure are particularly welcomed. These may include ‘borderline’ topics—cross-overs between art and science, such as decorated shells, maps, models, pop-up books or anatomical preparations. Although the focus of the conference will be the Low Countries—both the South and the North—proposals which make reference to developments elsewhere shall certainly be considered, so long as the overall relevance for the main theme is clear.

Topics for discussion may include, but are not limited to
• the fluid borders between art and nature, both in theory and in practice (e.g. life casting techniques, strategies of display),
• the influence and use of new theories and instruments of visual representation (e.g. the use of perspective, anatomical analysis, the telescope, microscope and camera obscura),
• the processes and techniques that artists used for the visual representation of the increasing body of traditional and new knowledge, such as different print media and the use of color, multi-sheet and interactive prints.
• the mediation of direct observation by visual conventions and the specific demands of illustrations concerned with the production of new knowledge (for instance with regard to previously unknown flora, fauna and peoples, and to anatomical and astronomical discoveries),
• the emergence in visual materials of new conceptions of objectivity and trustworthiness (e.g. the meaning of ‘ad vivum’ and its cognates; the character and use of illustrations in natural histories and ‘scientific’ treatises),
• spaces where scholars, craftsmen and artists cooperated, discussed and produced new knowledge, such as cabinets of curiosities, the workshop, the anatomical theatre and the botanical garden,
• the role of religion in the definition and construction of knowledge and its influence on the visualization of knowledge.

We invite proposals for 20-minute and 10-minute papers, presenting the results of new or ongoing research. A 300-word abstract (preferably including an image or reference to a work of art), together with a short curriculum vitae, should be sent to both Jan de Hond ( and Eric Jorink ( Proposals should be submitted no later than April 15, 2015. The selection of proposals will take place during the following month.


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Review: Richard Mead Conference and Exhibition

Recently I went to a symposium held at the Foundling Museum to accompany and enrich its exhibition on the life and legacy of Dr Richard Mead (1673-1754).  The exhibition has generated a lot of interest in Mead, especially from those like myself, who are studying his contemporary, the physician, naturalist, and collector Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753).  Mead and Sloane were similar in many respects: both physicians, based in London, with overlapping social connections, and especially, both virtuosi collectors of natural history, antiquarian, and art objects for their respective private museums.  So I thought a study day devoted to Mead, whilst interesting in and of itself, might also prove useful for the insights it delivered about Sloane too, and provide a way of further unlocking him and his collection’s secrets.

Michael Rysbrack, bust of Sir Hans Sloane, c1750s.  Terracotta. BM PE 1756,0619.1 © Trustees of the British Museum

Michael Rysbrack, bust of Sir Hans Sloane, c1750s. Terracotta. BM PE 1756,0619.1 © Trustees of the British Museum

I was proved right almost the moment I arrived, as Sloane cropped up many times in discussion, with many points of comparison between him and Mead put forward, but I came to realise that it was just as useful to learn about the many ways in which Mead was not like Sloane.  The day began with a keynote from Ludmilla Jordanova, on “the problem” of Mead.  Jordanova asked why it was that, given Mead was a “major figure in his own time”, he had been “neglected since”?  This is an issue in Sloane studies too, though not quite so much as for Mead.  Ludmilla posited that it was because there is no clear “hook” on which to hang Mead, and again this is true for Sloane.  Mead did not make any innovative discoveries so historians have not been able to insert him into the Whiggish history of the scientific hero.  Mead’s collection has not survived, so there is no institutional focus, and elevation by association like there is for Sloane.  But like Sloane, Mead had a broad range of interests, and a wide epistolary network, and perhaps it is to these relationships – to their breadth and depth – that historians must look.  Jordanova highlighted Mead’s understanding of and attachment to the past, and his relationships with artistic and literary figures such as Allan Ramsey and Alexander Pope, as such possible “routes” into the study of Mead.

It is Mead’s interest in literature, painting, sculpture where he most interestingly diverges from Sloane, I think.  Mead was one of the earliest bona fide connoisseurs – he patronised Ramsey, was a friend of Jonathan Richardson, and was instrumental in the rise of Shakespeare’s reputation.  One scholar who has made an innovative study of the medical, antiquarian, and artistic interests of London physicians is Craig Ashley Hanson, with his book The English Virtuoso.  In a conversation in the pub after the conference, Hanson agreed with me and my fellow PhD student Alice Marples, that one reason these figures are understudied is they don’t fall in the right half of the century.  The early 18thC is perceived as dry, and difficult to categorise.  In history of science, it’s seen as a disappointing era after the death of Newton.  In literature, it’s the unfashionable age of Pope and satire.  In the arts, it does seem to do a little better, because it’s the age of Hogarth.

The day was useful to me, in confirming some convictions and overturning others.  In my study of Sloane and his museum, I think about the ways in which he and the rest of his network used his objects to describe and interpret the natural world.  This dynamic aspect of Sloane’s scientific culture – not what you collected or from who, but how you used it – is understudied and Sloane’s archive has much to offer us.

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Radio Programme: Cellos and Nightingales

I’ve just come across this lovely BBC Radio 4 programme about one of the BBC’s earliest outdoor wildlife broadcasts in May 1924, in which a nightingale joined the cellist Beatrice Harrison in song.  The programme was so successful the feat was repeated for several years.  Just listen!

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Reading Group: Imagining Revolution

The Centre for Enlightenment Studies at King’s has had its first Reading Group session of the year.  The theme this academic year is Revolution, and this session we focused on how politicians, novelists and poets imagined revolution before it happened.  Our texts were extracts from Benjamin Franklin’s letters, Anna Barbauld‘s poems ‘Corsica‘ and ‘Epistle to William Wilberforce, Esq‘, extracts from Louis-Sébastien Mercier’s novel L’An 2440, and the Abbé Sieyès’s pamphlet What Is The Third Estate?

My interest in the revolutionary values which swept through Europe and the Americas in the late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-centuries lies as much in their origin as in their substance.  Where did the rhetoric of natural rights come from?  Was it from the observation and interpretation of the natural world? As such, I was fascinated to see Benjamin Franklin write in one of his letters that the Independents’ greatest defence against the English would be the American land itself, its fertility and natural defences.  And I was also curious to see Mercier describe, in his futuristic novel set in the year 2440, an imagined leader of a black slaves’ revolt in terms redolent of natural catastrophe, like “torrent” and “storm”.  These techniques serve both metaphorically to underline how inevitable Franklin and Mercier feel the prospect of revolution to be, but also to naturalise this process as something out of human hands, as simply the way things are or will be, when really revolution is a bloody and violent human struggle to assert one’s class interests, amongst other things.

Next session we’ll be reading Thomas Paine, William Wordsworth, and William Blake, and considering the experience of revolution itself, particularly the quality of revolutionary time as novel, urgent, definitive, a return to old values or a break with them entirely.

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Exhibition: Slavery and Ecology, Lewis Walpole Library

The Lewis Walpole Library is putting on an exhibition entitled Prospects of Empire: Slavery and Ecology in Eighteenth-Century Atlantic Britain, exploring the regulation of seized land and enslaved labour and the links between the two issues in the British colonies during the period.  The exhibition opens on 17 November and runs until the spring of 2015.

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Cfp: British Animal Studies Network: Tasting

The British Animals Studies Network, led by Professor Erica Fudge, has announced a call for papers for its next meeting in Glasgow, 15-16 May 2015.  The theme is “Tasting“, and deadline for abstracts is 30 January 2015.  The cfp says topics might include:

  • Eating animals in history, culture, philosophy
  • The edible, the inedible, the non-edible
  • Animal taste – i.e. beastly aesthetics
  •  Fashion (taste) and human-animal relations
  • Veg*n cultures and animal studies
  • Cannibalism and human status

Further details are available on the “Tasting” webpage, for which see link above.

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Review: John Clare and Botany Conference

In September, I attended the inaugural symposium of the new Centre for John Clare Studies, on the poet’s interest in botany and its influence on his poetry.  There was a mixture of literature academics, naturalists, members of the John Clare Society, and artists at the event, proving the importance of the Centre in providing a focus for the ever evolving interest in this writer.

The symposium took place at the Cambridge University Botanic Garden, on a particularly fine day, and as the sunshine streamed through the windows of the room we were sat in, I wished we could move outside and conduct the symposium amongst the plants.  But the Centre’s Director Paul Chirico and his colleagues Mina Gorji and Sarah Houghton-Walker began proceedings and we stayed indoors.

The papers were sensibly scheduled, with those illuminating Clare’s horticultural and botanical context first and those considering his poetry in the light of these interests later.  Taken together, they overturned typical preconceptions about Clare as an isolated, tragic figure or a simple, sentimental nature poet, and corrected certain misconceptions about Clare’s projects that have arisen in the posthumous editing of his work.  In addition, the little titbits I picked up about Clare made the day well worth attending.

From the first speaker, former Director of the Botanic Garden John Parker, we learned of John Stevens Henslow, Professor of Botany at Cambridge University, founder of the Garden, and pioneering ecologist.  Henslow advocated recording detailed information about soil type and so on when collecting plant specimens.  He achieved support from the University to found a garden in 1846, and planted it according to De Candolle’s natural classification system.  So Henslow’s theories chimed with the ecological sensibility of Clare’s poetry.  Henslow and Clare actually had a mutual acquaintance: Charles Fitzwilliam, Viscount Milton.

Sue Edney told us of Clare’s friendship with Joseph Henderson, head gardener for the Fitzwilliams at their Milton Hall seat.  Henderson sent exotic plants to Clare for him to raise in his own garden.  In his poetry Clare used Latin and latinate names more for exotics, and local names more for native plants.

We heard of Clare’s specimen gathering for friends from Bob Heyes, who also talked us through Clare’s so-called “Natural History of Helpston” letters, showing that they grew out of a desire to collaborate with the botanist Elizabeth Kent on a book on birds.  Clare’s intentions regarding a greater project are unclear because of the fragmentary nature of the extant correspondence.  Heyes further pointed out that whilst Clare expressed horror at killing insects in his poetry, he often collected insects himself.

John Clare and Botany conference attendees take a tour of the Cambridge University Botanic Garden, 23 Sept 2014. © The author.

John Clare and Botany conference attendees take a tour of the Cambridge University Botanic Garden, 23 Sept 2014. © The author.

From Rosamund Richardson, we learned that Clare made his own paper and ink, meaning he wrote on material he had himself gathered from the fields.  Richard Mabey gave us an enduring image of Clare (in Clare’s own words) “dropping down” to write from the plant’s point of view.  The whole day left me with the impression of Clare’s thirst for words as well as plants, words not just as knowledge but as beautiful sounds to be savoured like birdsong.  Clare must have mixed scientific and vernacular names of plants both as an argument for localism but also for poetic affect.  There is still much left to write on Clare and natural history, and I’d like in future to write about the “ecology” of Clare’s writing practices, for example.

And finally, we did go outside after all.  Part of the afternoon was spent in the enjoyable company of John Parker once more, as he took us on a tour of the Botanic Garden.  This brought Clare’s botany to life, and should act as a model for how to conduct future conferences of this nature.

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Cfp: Knowing Things

There’s been a call for papers announced for the  Knowing Things: Circulations and Transitions of Objects in Natural History conference, to take place at the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin, Germany, March 23-24 2015.  The deadline is 1st December 2014, more details below.

Knowing Things.
Circulations and Transitions of Objects in Natural History
International Conference at the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin, Germany
March 23rd – 24th, 2015

With this call for papers we invite researchers and young scholars from different fields – including, but not limited to, the history and theory of collections, museum studies, cultural history, art history and aesthetics – to present exemplary moments of transition in the history of natural specimens and to explore the impact of spatial and disciplinary mobility on the history and theory of natural history objects.

The goal of this conference is to contribute to the history and theory of these Wissensdinge (Objects of Knowledge) by reconstructing historical transitions and threshold areas within their institutional contexts, the collection and the museum. Can we identify different phases in the mobility of things of knowledge?  How do various spaces of knowledge, such as the laboratory, the collection and the exhibition, influence the ways of handling natural history objects? How do meanings attributed to these objects vary in different contexts? Rather than constructing a “biography” oriented towards the life cycle of the object, should we not instead be telling a history of fractures and shifts? Finally, to what extent does an expanded, multidisciplinary approach impact the use, meaning and presentation of Wissensdinge?

The focus of the conference will be on case studies. These will provide the basis for exploring the degree to which this fundamental characteristic of Wissensdinge – their mobility – can serve as a point of departure for better understanding natural history objects. Using the history of tangible objects within their institutional framework, we want to examine the extent to which Wissensdinge are shaped, not only by their materiality, but rather by their migration through diverse realms of knowledge, through technical settings, and through scientific, political, as well as cultural discourses. Furthermore, we want to ask how these settings and discourses are in turn shaped by things of knowledge. The conference will focus on the time period between the mid-19th century and the present.

The conference is organized by the research department PAN – Perspectives on Nature (Perspektiven auf Natur), Museum für Naturkunde Berlin in cooperation with the scientific collections of the Humboldt-Universität and with the base project “Mobile Objects” in the Cluster of Excellence “Image Knowledge Gestaltung. An interdisciplinary Laboratory”.

The event will take place from March 23rd to 24th, 2015 at the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin. The conference will be held in English. 
Please include in the application an abstract (max. 500 words) and a short CV. The deadline for submission is December 1st, 2014 at:

Keynote speaker: Lynn K. Nyhart
Complete CfP and further information:

Concept and organization:
Research Project “Wissensdinge/Things of knowledge. 
Stories from the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin”

PAN – Perspectives on Nature
Museum für Naturkunde
Leibniz-Institut für Evolutions- und Biodiversitätsforschung
Invalidenstrasse 43
10115 Berlin



Sponsored by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research.

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Talk: Women in the Enlightenment Gallery

Mary Delany, Portlandia grandiflora, 1782. Collage of coloured papers with body colour. BM PD 1897,0505.692 © Trustees of the British Museum

I’ve been asked to give my gallery talk on women in the British Museum’s Enlightenment Gallery (Room 1) again by the Museum’s lovely events organiser, Rosie Dalgado.  It is going to be on Wednesday 10 December, at 1-1.45pm.  I really enjoyed giving this talk last time, it is a wonderful experience to move through the Enlightenment Gallery and use its objects to tell a story, all the while without notes and with people asking me questions.  I’ll be talking about Mary Delany, one of my favourite topics, as well as the dinosaur collector Mary Anning, and the sculptress Anne Damer, amongst others.  So if any of those women sound interesting to you, please come along!  It’s completely free and there’s no need to book.

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Cfp: (Re)imagining the insect, 1700-1900

From the University of Warwick’s Humanities Research Centre, and organised by PhD students Emilie Taylor-Brown and Elisabeth Wallmann, a cfp for (Re)imagining the insect: natures and cultures of invertebrates, 1700-1900:

“With Keynote Addresses from Dr. Charlotte Sleigh and Dr. Kate Tunstall

Saturday 7th March 2015

There are around 800,000 species of insect. From the honey on our breakfast cereal, lice infesting our hair to cockroaches invading our homes: insects are, and always have been, implicated in our everyday lives. Insects were fashioned into jewellery, imprisoned in amber, eaten, dissected, collected, revered, reviled and fictionalised. From the sacred scarabs of Ancient Egypt, or the Renaissance dung-beetles used to symbolise Jesus Christ, to our modern systems of pest control, insect-human relations have been subject, and contributed, to the forces of human history. Our conference proposes to examine the pre-eminence of invertebrate life in the period 1700-1900, including literary, historical, linguistic and scientific perspectives. This subject offers a large scope for theoretical engagement, challenging conventional ways of thinking about human history and culture. In line with developments in the burgeoning field of animal studies and more generally in the environmental humanities, invertebrates have a lot to teach about some of the most burning questions facing scholarship today: what can these seemingly insignificant creatures tell us about man’s place in ‘nature’? What does it mean that the only species more successful than humans in colonising the planet are also those considered the most disgusting? This conference seeks to showcase the exciting research being carried out by scholars from diverse fields on the vast topic of insects and other invertebrate animals. It will be of relevance to, not just those working directly with invertebrates, but also to those carrying out projects that intersect, however briefly, with these concerns. Topics might include, but are not limited to:

– Invertebrates in literatures (insects as metaphors; as teaching tools)

– Insect ‘economy’ / insects and economy (e.g. in advertising)

– Natural History (taxonomic problems, collecting/collections, microscopy)

– Origins and spontaneous generation

– Disease (vectorism, book-worms, tooth-worms, death, medicine)

– Alternative foodsources, sustainability and eco-criticism

– Flea circuses, insects and performance

– Insect spaces (Uexkuell’s concept of Umwelt)

– The social lives of insects

– Insects as political criticisms

The organisers invite abstracts of 250 words for 20 minute papers. Abstracts, along with a short biography, should be sent to by 19th December 2014.

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