Visual Cultures in Natural History, the Life Sciences, and Medicine

Images and the techniques for creating them have been essential to the sciences over many centuries. Scholars from across the humanities have used visual representations as a lens to explore the sciences from the perspective of visual cultures and thus illuminate processes and frameworks of knowledge-production. Taking a visual-culture perspective, this working group aims to go beyond the representational functions of visual images to include the materiality, production, use, and dissemination of images. We will consider the wider practices, tools and methods, skills, and infrastructures that support visual representations.
This working group invites a wide range of scholars from different fields to discuss works that examine the various roles of images in the history of science, technology, and medicine. The group will discuss work in progress (papers, chapters, projects) representing a broad range of topics and fields from natural history, the life sciences, and the medical sciences. While contributions will be discussed individually, we intend to explore the unifying question of how images have changed over time and across geographical regions and cultures of knowledge-production. In particular, we are interested in how their changing meanings as epistemic tools have subsequently transformed communities of knowledge, scientific ideas and reasoning, technologies, and medical and scientific applications and practices, and vice versa, how these helped turn epistemic tools into rhetorical tools, distributing science to larger audiences.

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Consortium Respectful Behavior Policy

Participants at Consortium activities will treat each other with respect and consideration to create a collegial, inclusive, and professional environment that is free from any form of discrimination, harassment, or retaliation.

Participants will avoid any inappropriate actions or statements based on individual characteristics such as age, race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, marital status, nationality, political affiliation, ability status, educational background, or any other characteristic protected by law. Disruptive or harassing behavior of any kind will not be tolerated. Harassment includes but is not limited to inappropriate or intimidating behavior and language, unwelcome jokes or comments, unwanted touching or attention, offensive images, photography without permission, and stalking.

Participants may send reports or concerns about violations of this policy to

Upcoming Meetings

  • Friday, June 3, 2022 12:00 pm to 1:30 pm EDT


Past Meetings

  • April 15, 2022

    Graylin Whitney Harrison (Stanford University), "The Stuff of Souls: I Novissimi in Early Modern Naples"

  • March 18, 2022

    Katherine M. Reinhart, University of Wisconsin-Madison, "Art & Empire: Circulating Visual Knowledge in the Global Early Modern World."

  • December 17, 2021

    Marco Tamborini, Institute of Philosophy, Technical University of Darmstadt, "Data and Visualizations of Deep Time," ch. for edited volume, Handbook of the Historiography of the Earth and Environmental Sciences. Edited by Elena Aronova, David Sepkoski, Marco Tamborini, Springer 2022. 

  • November 19, 2021

    To avoid conflicts with the History of Science Society meeting, we will not meet in November.

  • October 15, 2021

    Elisabeth Hsu, University of Oxford, “Movement that Generates Synchronicity” and "The Iconography of Time"

  • September 17, 2021

    Jennifer Tucker, Wesleyan University, "Over London at Night": Gasworks, Ballooning and Seeing the Thames 

  • June 18, 2021

    Hanna Lucia Worliczek, Department of History, University of Vienna (Austria), ch. ms. "Of fibroblasts and antibodies on Long Island - The becoming of molecularized imaging at the intersection of tumor virus research and cell biology at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in the 1970s"

  • May 14, 2021

    Nick Hopwood, Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge, chapters from ms. Visible Embryos: A History of Human Development.

  • April 16, 2021

    Pamela Mackenzie, Max Planck Institute for Art History, Bibliotheca Hertziana, Rome, will be presenting her work on images of bladder stones in the Royal Society collections: "Cures and Curiosities: Visualizing the Stone Disease."

  • March 19, 2021

    Laura Aguilera, Department of Art History, Visual Art & Theory, University of British Columbia, diss. ch. “Transcultural Trajectories of Two Feathered Objects” (from her dissertation "Transcultural Mobilities: The Translation of Mesoamerican Knowledge and Early Modern Natural History")

Group Conveners

  • TamaraCaulkins's picture

    Tamara Caulkins

    Tamara Caulkins is a historian of science who researches the intersections of science and culture and the visualization of knowledge, particularly in the eighteenth century. Her research has focused on developments in eighteenth-century France, studying bourgeoisie values in Buffon’s encyclopedic L’Histoire Naturelle and the use of scientific notation systems for court dance and military drill. Her current book project, Visualizing the Noble Body in Motion: Diagrammatic Notations for Dance and Drill in the Age of Enlightenment examines the implications of graphic visualizations in the sciences for new ways of measuring and understanding the movement of human bodies. A second book project, Icons of Artifice: A Cultural History of Eighteenth-Century Greenhouses, underscores the connections between technology, culture, and science. 

    Dr. Caulkins’ recent presentations include “Geometry for Nobles: The Math of Self-Fashioning in the Age of Enlightenment,” at the 9th International Conference of the European Society for the History of Science (ESHS) and Understanding Nature through Graphic Representations: Maria Sibylla Merian and Alexander von Humboldt in the Long Eighteenth Century for the Centre for the Humanities & Medicine at the University of Hong Kong. Her co-authored article on “Co-teaching Botany and History: An Interdisciplinary Model for a More Inclusive Curriculum” appeared in the Focus section on pedagogy in the Sept. 2020 issue of Isis.


  • Katharina's picture

    Katharina Steiner

    Katharina Steiner received her Ph.D. in History from the University of Zurich. She currently holds a Marie Skłodowska-CurieFellowshipas a cooperation between the University of Geneva and the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Her research focuses on the intersection of visual culture and knowledge production. Her book project, Visualizing Marine Biology: Fishermen, Copepods and the Naples Zoological Station, uses the Naples Zoological Station as a case study to show how social organization and work culture shape research programs and scientific products, and vice versa. Her new research project “Depicting Species” investigates the functions and meanings ofscientific imagery and how they changed over time, genres of publication, and audiences.


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