Intimate Climates

Notes, Summaries & Reviews, Thesis Research

Vladimir Jankovic, “Intimate Climates: From Skins to Streets, Soirees to Societies,” in Intimate Universality: Local and Global Themes in the History of Weather and Climate eds. James Fleming, Vladimir Jankovic, and Deborah Coen, 1-34 (Sagamore Beach: Science History Publications, 2006).

In this chapter, Jankovic is interested in the dichotomy of the indoor/outdoor and in understandings (from literary and medical sources) of weather before the mass quantitative study of it really took off. He is particularly interested in indoor environments, an understudied aspect of weather — “intimate meteorologies.”

“An adept in medicine”

Notes, Summaries & Reviews, Thesis Research

M. D. Eddy, “‘An adept in medicine’: the Reverend Dr William Laing, nervous complaints and the commodification of spa water,” Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 39 (2008): 1-13.

Dr. Laing (1742-1812) wrote two works on a town with mineral waters — Peterhead, Scotland — and used his knowledge of medical chemistry (along with testimonials) to explain the therapeutic powers of the waters. Eddy employs this as a case study through which to acquire a better understanding of the development and deployment of medico-scientific knowledge in explaining the therapeutic powers of spa water and its relationship to therapeutic commodification.

This study is outside of the timeline and geographic constraints of my work, but it provides a good historical perspective, and Eddy’s approach and the language he uses to describe some of the things I’m seeing in Eureka Springs are very helpful.


Summaries & Reviews

Visible Empire: Botanical Expeditions & Visual Culture in the Hispanic Enlightenment, Daniela Bleichmar

            Author Daniela Bleichmar bases her study of Hispanic botanical expeditions around the images created during them in order to analyze the place of illustration in the Enlightenment natural philosophical era. Through these images, Bleichmar elucidates the motivations behind their production (to exploit natural colonial resources and make colonial flora “mobile”), their place in and exemplification of the international botanical network, and what they said (and did not say) about the places from whence they came. Bleichmar also takes the opportunity the images provide to discuss and analyze Hispanic colonial changes in the seventeenth- and eighteenth-centuries and the economic motivations for botanizing expeditions. Underlying her entire analysis is an insistence and explanation of the importance of visual epistemologies in Enlightenment science, especially in the Spanish Empire. 

The Image of Objectivity, Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison

            In a survey of atlases of the nineteenth- and early twentieth-centuries, authors Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison trace changing ideas in the scientific community about visual representations of natural phenomena. The predominate methods of representation in the nineteenth-century concerned themselves with being “true to nature.” Experts who put together the atlases were supposed to, with their professional knowledge of a subject, use their judgment to create images that would be representative of natural things. A different view, a mechanical objectivity, began developing mid-century and stressed instead the importance of ridding scientific representations of their human components, or subjectivity. Judgment on the part of even professional scientists was viewed as immoral; professional scientists were expected to refrain from inserting themselves into their objective representations of natural phenomena. This mentality propelled imaging machines to the forefront of representational technology, especially the camera, and encouraged publication in atlases of multiple images of the same thing, so that the burden of representation was transferred to the audience.

The role of visual epistemologies was also addressed in Daniel Margoscy’s Commercial Visions. The standards for anatomical representations — the way that different anatomists vied for various methods of representation as superior — stands in stark contrast to the homogeneity in opinion about the hierarchy of botanical representations. At least as Bleichmar presents it, most naturalists were in agreement that visual representations were better than textual or physical renditions of plants. That being said, the goal of a representative, ideally easily reproducible representation was common to both anatomists and botanists. The goal of classification, such a powerful component of Enlightenment natural philosophy, deemed the standardization of nature necessary.

The role of the artist was addressed in both Visible Empire and The Image of Objectivity, and both works depicted the relationship between artist and scientist as a contentious one in some respects. The implied subjectivity of the artist was a source of tension, as was their propensity for creative license. Scientists felt the need to very literally look over their shoulders as they attempted to conform to the scientists’ particular definition of “objective.” What Galison and Daston and Bleichmar stress, however, is that standards of objectivity were quite subjective themselves. The leaving out of parts of plants, for example, was common practice in colonial Spanish scientific representations of colonial flora. These representations were also selective in that they portrayed only the plant, even simply parts of the plant, and left out their surroundings completely. Additionally, as Daston and Galison highlight, standards for objectivity in representation have changed over time, indicating further their transitory nature. It seems that the very subjectivity scientists were attempting to eliminate from their representations was present nonetheless, inherent in the selectivity scientists imposed upon the subjective artists they employed.