The Languages of Nature: Science, Literature, and the Imagination (workshop)

Friday and Saturday, 13 – 14 September 2019

This two-day workshop brings together scholars in different fields—the histories of science, medicine, and technology; literary criticism; and allied disciplines—to explore the entanglements of scientific and literary mentalities and investigate how they mutually informed each other circa 1500 to 1800. During this period, writing about nature evolved rapidly, inspiring many new scientific and literary genres and kinds of publications, including experiments with the written word and the relations between words and images. The emergence of new scientific instruments, practices, and institutions spurred other kinds of writing about science and its discoveries, in prose and poetry. The scientific letter morphed into the scientific article in an expanding variety of publications—learned journals, gazettes, magazines, and newspapers. Writing about scientific practitioners and philosophical thinkers—anatomists, astronomers, natural philosophers, experimenters—captured the changing state of knowledge on a more personal level, transforming leading minds into public figures. In early modern Europe and its overseas colonies, long before modern debates about “two cultures,” how did an encyclopedic understanding of knowledge, new forms of scientific observation, and the emergence of an imaginative vocabulary to describe natural phenomena shape early modern mentalities?

Director: Paula Findlen is Ubaldo Pierotti Professor of Italian History at Stanford University and Director of the Suppes Center for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology. Her many publications include Possessing Nature: Museums, Collecting and Scientific Culture (1994), Athanasius Kircher: The Last Man Who Knew Everything (2002), and Leonardo’s Library: The World of a Renaissance Reader (2019).

Invited Speakers: Invited Speakers: Eileen Reeves (Princeton University) will open the workshop with a plenary lecture. Invited speakers include: Liza Blake (University of Toronto), Dániel Margócsy (Cambridge University), María Portuondo (Johns Hopkins University), Jennifer Rampling (Princeton University), Arielle Saiber (Bowdoin College), David Carroll Simon (University of Maryland, College Park), and Jessica Wolfe (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill).

Applications for Folger Institute consortium grants-in-aid must be received by 10 June 2019.