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Durham University

Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies (IMEMS)

Event Archive

Epistemic Images in Early Modern Europe

9th February 2016, 17:30, Learning Centre, Palace Green Library, Dr Sachiko Kusukawa, University of Cambridge

followed by a drinks reception at the Cafe, Palace Green Library.

This event is part of the IMEMS Openness and Secrecy seminar series for 2015/16.

Please note that places for this event will be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis. To book your place click here

Abstract: Traditionally, the history of scientific illustrations in the early modern period was a story about the triumph of naturalism and single-point perspective, and how they aided the expression of, or fuelled the development of, a new science based on direct observation. Scholarship in both history of art and history of science has problematized ‘naturalism’ and ‘observation’ to the point that it is now unhelpful to think of a simple correlation between the two. Images were, nevertheless, a versatile means of constituting scientific objects and presenting knowledge, as I shall highlight with examples from studies of anatomy, plants and animals spearheaded by physicians. They relied on graphically proficient craftsmen to create images for them, but they insisted on curbing their artistic liberties, literally breathing down their neck, in order to constitute generalized scientific objects. It would be rash to claim that such efforts amounted to the emergence of a new and independent genre of scientific imagery, but it is worth acknowledging the important role of images in the development of visualization techniques for scientific knowledge in the early modern period.

Sachiko Kusukawa is Fellow in History and Philosophy of Science at Trinity College, Cambridge. Her research has focused on the role of images in the history of science Picturing the book of nature: image, text, and argument in sixteenth-century human anatomy and medical botany (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012). She was co-investigator in a project that produced a database of astronomical diagrams in early modern Europe ( and curator of a digital exhibition on Andreas Vesalius at Cambridge University Library: Her current project is on the graphic and pictorial practices of the early Royal Society, which is funded by the AHRC, UK:

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