Fall 2011

Images and Science: Seminar/Colloquium
Professor W. J. T. Mitchell, Gaylord Donnelley Distinguished Service Professor of English Language and Literature, Art History, Committee on Art and Design, and the College; Editor of Critical Inquiry
Norman Macleod, Keeper of Paleontology at the British Museum of Natural History, London

Course Description & Schedule
“Images and Science” will provide a survey of recent work in visual studies, iconology, and art history that engages with scientific theories and practices, primarily (but not exclusively) in the life sciences. The colloquium will be constructed around a faculty-graduate student seminar assembled for the purpose of discussing this topic and producing a cross-fertilization of the disciplines of the natural and physical sciences, art history and visual culture, new media, information technology, and artistic practices. A central presence will be biologist Norman Macleod, the Keeper of Paleontology at the British Museum of Natural History, who will be here as a visiting professor for the entire fall term. (Macleod's visit is supported by the Computation in Science Seminar Series, the Nicholson Center for British Studies, the Fishbein Center for the History of Science, the University Arts Council, the Department of Art History, and the Deputy Provost for the Arts). Visiting speakers will include Peter Galison and Caroline Jones, the editors of the important book, Picturing Science, Producing Art.  Participating Chicago faculty will include Bob Richards (History of Science), Paul Sereno (Paleontology), Jason Salavon (DOVA), Richard NeerRebecca Zorach, and Joel Snyder (Art History). PhD students who have strong interests and background in the topic will be admitted as well, and can register for the colloquium as a for-credit seminar.

Topics addressed by the colloquium will include the graphic representation of scientific data, the role of figurative language and pictures in constructing scientific hypotheses, public images of science and scientists, and the status of visible evidence and demonstration in scientific practice. We also want to reverse the image/science relationship and examine the concept of the image as such when viewed through the framework of various sciences—cognitive, biological, psychological, computational, and physical. Historical sciences such as archaeology and paleontology are centrally constituted by reconstructed images and scenes. Experimental and theoretical sciences from physics to biology to mathematics have always relied on intuitive leaps employing images, diagrams, and spatial models. Macleod's writings on theories of images and forms in biology, and his work with databases of type specimens will be central. I will come at the subject via my book on the history of dinosaur images and a paper on “Image Science” that emerged from the Bildwissenschaft group at the Wissenschaftskolleg in Berlin, and was commissioned for the Thyssen Lectures at Humboldt University. Bob Richards will discuss the role of visual images in the pioneering work of Ernst Haeckel in advancing and publicizing Darwinist models of evolution; this is the subject of his recent Laing Prize winning book, The Tragic Sense of Life. Richard Neer, our colleague in Art History and Classical Archaeology, will present his work on the hermeneutic circle in the reading of archaeological evidence, and introduce us to the revolution in contemporary archaeology’s relation to art history and the earth sciences, a transformation roughly equivalent to the rise of comparative literature. Paul Sereno will discuss the importance of visual art and observation in paleontological research, and the use of databases to collate large archives of fossils as a guide to precisely targetedfield work. Jason Salavon, a pioneering figure in new media and digital arts, will present his work with image data bases of biological specimens and image averaging. Rebecca Zorach will discuss the evolution of the modern diagram, issues of abstraction and concreteness, and the relation between empirical and speculative representations of objects, worlds, and mental processes. Norman Macleod and I will be responsible for conducting weekly discussion sessions, and the members of the faculty-working group will lead discussion on the texts they have recommended. Students who register for the colloquium as a seminar will also participate in the discussions and have the opportunity to present their research projects. The colloquium will meet weekly (Monday afternoons) for three hours, 1:30-4:30 in the Special Collections Seminar Room in Regenstein Library.

The central event for this colloquium will be the visit of Peter Galison and Caroline Jones on November 14th. Galison, Joseph Pellegrino University Professor at Harvard University, is a MacArthur Fellow and winner of the Max Planck Prize in the history of science. He is among the leading historians of science in the world today, and is Director of the famous Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments at Harvard. His books include Image and Logic: A Material Culture of Microphysics (1997), Einstein’s Clocks, Poincare’s Maps (2003) and he is the director of widely admired documentary films on the development of the H-Bomb and the national security state. Caroline Jones is the Director of the History, Theory and Criticism Section of MIT’s Department of Art History. Her books include The Machine in the Studio and numerous articles on art, technology, and science in leading journals. She works on modern and contemporary art, with a particular focus on its technological modes of production, distribution, and reception, and she is co-editor with Peter Galison of Picturing Science, Producing Art (1998). Galison and Jones will be here for a half-day symposium bringing together the students and faculty involved in the colloquium, as well as interested members of the public. Held at the Franke Institute from 2-6 PM November 14th the symposium will serve as a public forum for the basic issues raised throughout the colloquium:  the role of images in science, as educational and publicity tools, as well as research instruments, and objects of research in their own right.  

This course was supported by the Arts|Science Initiative, Computation in Science Seminar Series, Vice Provost for the Arts, Arts Council, Fishbien Center for the History of Science, Nicolson Center for British Studies, Art History Department, and the Franke Institute.


Julie Marie Lemon, Program Director and Curator