Imagining Nature: Technologies of the Literal and the Scientific Revolution (colloquium)

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This was a year-long colloquium held from 2003–2004.

Conventionally, the emergence of modernity and the rise of modern science in the seventeenth century have been underwritten by the turn from the symbolic to the literal. Whether favoring a simple, unadorned descriptive language or insisting upon the concrete visual representation of natural phenomena, the "sciences" and medicine sought to reproduce and exhaustively catalogue the literal in nature as a foundation for the production of knowledge. This colloquium interrogated the status of the literal through a careful historical examination of all kinds of technologies that were adopted-or adapted-to produce the literal as an object of knowledge and cultural authority. Among the technologies that we explored are: reading (books and the Book of Nature); visual technologies and the function of images; mapping, diagramming, and modeling; the production of tables, lists, and other methods of storing, organizing, and retrieving (literal) information; mathematical representation; laboratory practices; instruments as technologies for accessing, documenting, and producing specific and precise realms of the literal; the use of museums, cabinets of curiosities, and natural history to construct "objects" as literal constituents of a natural world; classification techniques; and botanical gardens. Projects from a wide range of disciplines were welcome, including those in the fields of history, philosophy, history of science, literature, art history, and cultural studies. Discussions were organized around the work-in-progress of participants, which were circulated prior to each meeting along with selected additional readings.

Director: James J. Bono is Associate Professor in the Departments of History and of Medicine at the University at Buffalo, the State University of New York. He is an editor of the journal Configurations and is the author of, among other works, The Word of God and the Languages of Man: Interpreting Nature in Early Modern Science and Medicine vol. 1, Ficino to Descartes (1995); volume 2 is in progress.