Cabinet of Natural History Lent 2015 term card

Cabinet of Natural History – Lent 2015

Department of History and Philosophy of Science, Free School Lane

Contact: Margaret Carlyle, mec63@cam.ac.uk

All seminars begin at 1pm in Seminar room 1.

Week 1 – Monday 19 January 2015

Alexander Iosad (History, University of Oxford), Cabinets, eclipses, and lightning rods: the role of curiosity in the perception of science in eighteenth-century Russia

The historiography of science in 18th-century Russia has largely focused on the St Petersburg Academy of Sciences, founded in 1725. While understandable in the light of available sources, this institutional bias has sometimes obscured the larger issue of the place of science in contemporary Russian culture. By considering the kinds of objects and phenomena that attracted the attention of Russians in the first half of the century, we can learn more about the way European science was seen in a country that had little tradition of systematic study of nature and its relation to the wider culture of Russianelites. In particular, we can trace the way in which different European approaches to nature, introduced under the banner of Europeanization, were appropriated and conflicted with each other as the century wore on. Ultimately, the presentation will show that the story of the Academy is just one part of a complex cultural landscape in Russia before Catherine II.

Week 2 – Monday 26 January 2015

Allegra Fryxell (History, University of Cambridge), Bringing ancient grains to life: Tutankhamen, Egyptomania, and modernist enchantment in interwar Britain

This paper examines the phenomena of ‘Egyptomania’ in interwar Britain and its broader cultural significance. Drawing upon contemporary news releases, photographic reproductions of Egyptian artefacts, tomb replicas, museum records, material culture, and enchanted stories like the ‘Curse of the Mummy’, I argue that 1920s Egyptomania—which coalesced around the discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1922—does not merely manifest in an art deco fascination with the Orient, but produced an alternate ‘enchanted’ reality wherein Britons could experience an elision or collapse of time, softening the boundaries between past and present. The contested nature of Tut’s discovery meant that his artefacts could not leave Egypt, prompting the creation of a ‘virtual archive’ and artefactual reproduction that re-interpreted Egyptian remains on modern(ist) British terms. I suggest that a feeling or belief in such a permeable temporality was central to the proliferation and contemporary understanding of images, objects, and ideas related to ancient Egypt during this period.

Week 3 – Monday 2 February 2015

Sophie Waring (HPS, University of Cambridge), ‘O! How glad I am I have no pendulum’ In pursuit of the figure of the earth

Week 4 – Monday 9 February 2015

Sophie Brockmann (Institute of Latin American Studies, University of London), Surveying nature in late-colonial Central America

Week 5 – Monday 16 February 2015

Alexander Wragge-Morley (History, University College London), Verbal Picturing and Aesthetic Experience in Natural History, 1650-1720

Week 6 – Monday 23 February 2015

Neil Pemberton (CHSTM, University of Manchester), The Death of the Kennel: dog-fouling and dog-walking in 1970s Britain

You could be forgiven to think that dog-fouling and dog-walking have no history. However, over the past eighty years the rules and etiquette governing the dog-walking team and where in public space dogs are allowed to relieve themselves has changed considerably over time. This paper represents initial work on the changing interspecies politics of dog-walking and dog fouling in Britain, critically exploring the question raised by Donna Harraway in her Companion Species Manifesto: that is, ‘who takes care of the shit in a companion animal relationship’?

This talk will focus on the attempts to exclude dogs from British recreational spaces in 1970s Britain, especially parks, as a means to examine the dynamic interplay of species relations, conceptions of pollution, nature-culture boundaries, and the politics of geographical exclusion. While Poop Scoop laws emerged in New York at the end of the 1970s, no self-respecting British dog walker was willing to partake in the abject role of picking up canine excreta anywhere in public space. Nor did any local authority expect or demand dog walkers to ‘scoop’. By exploring the medico-moral panic concerning the perceived threats of Toxocara canis—the common roundworm found in dogs—to human health,  this paper elucidates the ideologies, processes and categories by which dog fouling—and by association—dogwalking came to be defined as an urgent social, health and environment problem, leading to the exclusion of dogs from the nation’s public parks and beaches, which turned Britain into something of a ‘no-dog’s land’.

Yet my paper will also explore the cultural resources and social strategies used by dogwalkers to defend not only their access to public parks, drawing upon the language of speciesism and discrimination, but also highlight the health benefits of dogs as companion animals and of dog-walking, insisting upon the mutualistic symbiosis of urban canine-human living. For my critical purposes, dog-walkers’ discourse provides a window on changes in companion species relations, the analysis of which uncovers a shift in attitude and social practice from ‘ownership’ to ‘parenting’, from ‘pets’ to ‘companion animals’, as canines gained closer physical and affective proximity to human lives; a trend gaining pronounced social, cultural and material articulation from the late 1960s, leading to what one might call the “death of the kennel”.

Week 7 – Monday 2 March 2015

Michael Bycroft (History, University of Warwick), Jewellers, Travellers and the Classification of Gems, c. 1600-1800

Week 8 – Monday 9 March 2015

Petter Hellström (History of Science and Ideas, Uppsala University), Deadwood taxonomies: Trees of nature before evolution

In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, as more and more naturalists decried “artificial” taxonomies and went in search of the true, inherent order of nature, some found themselves arguing for trees. This, importantly, had nothing to do with evolution. It was rather that the tree, already employed for centuries in genealogy and logic, made it possible to expand the scala naturae into a bundle, providing for a more complex system. The case is exemplified with the “botanical tree” of Augustin Augier (1801), often discussed as the first tree in systematics and as a precursor to evolutionary trees. The biography of Augier, recently excavated by myself and colleagues in France, aligns with his vision of nature as static, beautiful and perfectly ordered: Augustin Augier de Favas was a priest of the Oratorian order. In this talk, I argue that early systematic trees, including that of Augier, really were deadwood, both in the sense that they were representations of unchanging nature, but also because they did not lead anywhere.

 

 

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