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The modernization of Western science since the Scientific Revolution of the 17th century has emphasized accurate observation and the collection of verifiable data. However, the history of nature study abounds with illustrations and metaphors that reflect prior imagination and categorization, such as Albrecht Dürer's 15th c. engraving of a rhinoceros that appears to be wearing armor, and 20th c. entomologists' descriptions of ants as both the 'perfect socialists' and as vicious and violent 'slave societies'. In this colloquium, we will examine how our expectations about the natural world literally shape what we see when we look at nature. We will use a wide range of primary sources including accounts of European expeditions to the New World, Renaissance and early modern anatomical atlases and medical texts, nineteenth- and twentieth-century field guides, accounts of North American explorations of the continent’s interior after the Louisiana Purchase, twentieth century nature documentaries and more, to explore the complex relationship between our understanding of nature, our passion for arranging nature into categories, and our representation of nature. We will ask, why is narrative so central to the practice of science, and how and why do ‘factual’ narratives reflect our social and political assumptions? How do our schemas and our technologies affect our actual perception and experience? How do assumptions about human organization impact our appreciation for order and function in nature and vice versa?
Source: College Colloquium Page
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