Tag Archives: History of Science

Call for papers: Coping with Copia: Epistemological Excess in Early Modern Art and Science, Montreal

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

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

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 (Fabian.Kraemer@lmu.de) and Itay Sapir (sapir.itay@uqam.ca) by
May 31, 2014.

Two Postdoctoral Fellowships within the Re­search Group ‘Art and Knowledge in Pre-Modern Europe’ (Berlin)

Two Postdoctoral Fellowships
Re­search Group ‘Art and Knowledge in Pre-Modern Europe’
Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin
Deadline for submission: February 15, 2014
Interviews will take place on 26 March 2014

The Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin (the Max Planck Research Group Art and Knowledge in Pre-Modern Europe; Director: Prof. Dr. Sven Dupré) an­noun­ces two postdoctoral fellowships for up to two years starting date between July 1 and October 1, 2014. Outstanding scholars are invited to apply.

max_planck_berlin_logoCandidates should hold a doctorate in the history of science and technology or a rela­ted field (art history, conservation science, technical art history, history of medicine) at the time of application and show evidence of scholarly promise in the form of publica­tions and other achievements. Tenure of a prior postdoctoral fellowship will be to the candidate’s advantage.

Particularly welcome are research projects on ‘Early Modern Art Technologies and Materials’: see here. However, research projects addressing the full scope of Max Planck Research Group dealing with the history of knowledge and art up to the eighteenth cen­tury (with a preference for the period between 1350 and 1750) will be considered. Re­search projects may concern any geographical area within Europe, and any of the visu­al and decorative arts. For short descriptions of the project, see here.

Postdoctoral 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 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 between 2.100 € and 2.500 € (fellows from abroad) or between 1.468 € and 1.621 € (fellows from Germany, who may alternatively opt for a contract TVöD E13 in the German system).

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.

Only electronic submissions will be accepted. Candidates are requested to submit a cover letter, curriculum vitae including publication list, research prospectus (maximum 750 words), and at least one sample of writing (i.e. article or book chapter) to:

Please arrange to have two referees send signed scanned letters of recommendation to:

originals by snail mail to:
Max-Planck-Institut für Wissenschaftsgeschichte
Max Planck Research Group Dupré
Boltzmannstr. 22
14195 Berlin

Deadline for submission: February 15, 2014 // Interviews will take place on 26 March 2014.

For questions concerning the Max Planck Research Group on Art and Knowledge in Pre-Modern Europe, please see here or contact Sven Dupré. For questions relating to the online application procedure please contact officedupre(at)mpiwg-berlin.mpg.de. For administrative questions concerning the position or the Institute, please contact Claudia Paaß, Head of Administration, or Jochen Schneider, Research Coordinator.