Laurel J Waycott

Ph.D. Candidate, Program in the History of Science and Medicine, Yale University

2018 to 2019
Research Fellow

Patterns of Creation: Organic Form in the Science of Life, 1880-1930

Between 1880 and 1920, British and American scientific exploration in colonial spaces opened an ambiguous zone between zoology and anthropology, allowing ideas about nature and culture to intermingle in new ways. My dissertation uses the study of art and material culture—in particular the ornamental patterns of the zigzag, spiral, and leaf—to investigate how scientists and designers negotiated the boundary between nature and culture by debating the origins of patterns, and who or what had the power to create new ones. By interrogating who or what was recognized as a “creator,” this project invites historians to reconsider their understanding of creativity and the relationship between art, science, and religion. Rather than a story of conflict, this study reveals how concepts based in Christian cosmology were redeployed in evolutionary stories. This reframing of creativity opens new opportunities for questioning Euro-American assumptions about the relationship between humans and the natural world.