Karin Ekholm

Ph.D. Candidate
History and Philosophy of Science Department
Indiana University

2008 to 2009
Dissertation Research Fellow

Generation and its Problems: Harvey, Highmore and Their Contemporaries

My dissertation explores early modern conceptions of life, and particularly their ramifications for British studies of generation. During the 1640s William Harvey led several anatomists in some of the earliest systematic observations of developing fetuses. The physician Nathaniel Highmore was part of this group, yet in 1651 he and Harvey published strikingly different theories of generation. My dissertation delineates key differences between Harvey’s and Highmore’s studies of generation, traces sources of their ideas, and reveals ways in which their work provides a locus for analyzing the intersections between central 17th-century problems in philosophy, physiology, anatomy, chemistry, and medicine. In order to appreciate their nuanced arguments, it is necessary that I consult the books to which they were responding. As an interdisciplinary study, my dissertation will benefit greatly from the spectrum of sciences represented by the collections of PACHS consortium members—particularly at the University of Pennsylvania, the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, Princeton University, the Chemical Heritage Foundation, and the American Philosophical Society. Each of these collections contains early, rare editions of specific works that are essential sources for my work, as well 16th- and early-17th-century anatomical and chemical texts that will allow me to formulate a better understanding of Harvey’s and Highmore’s intellectual context. Here is a report of her work.