Scientific Books and their Makers (RBS-Mellon Symposium)

Date: 16 October 2015 – 17 October 2015
Time: Times vary
Location: University of Iowa
Presented by: The Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship of Scholars in Critical Bibliography at Rare Book School, the University of Iowa Center for the Book, the University of Iowa Obermann Center for Advanced Studies and the Departments of History and English

In the preface to Micrographia (1665), one of the first visual studies of the microscopic world, the experimental philosopher Robert Hooke argued that knowledge of nature was rooted in human vision, especially as augmented by tools like the recently-invented microscope, and human craft, which built the microscope and made images of the new worlds that it revealed. Hooke suggested that without such instruments, humans were ill-equipped to apprehend the true nature of reality, hidden just beyond the edge of sight. The microscope challenged the primacy of human vision—augmenting it, but also threatening to override it.

In early modern Europe, Hooke’s was only one of the many newly-revealed worlds that challenged established beliefs about the natural order and humanity’s place in it. This symposium invites us to consider the vehicles through which these challenges were mounted— books. Like the microscope, early modern scientific books were the united production of eye, hand, and mind, brought to life through the work of artists, printers, publishers, and readers—as well as authors. How did books function as instruments for the communication and extension of scientific knowledge? What new ways of communicating such knowledge, both visual and textual, did the makers of scientific books devise? How did makers work with—and against—each other? How was the development of scientific knowledge shaped by the material technologies of the book and vice versa, as makers invented new forms (such as the journal) and adapted old ones, such as maps and charts? Looking beyond the early modern period, how have readers, imaginative writers, and artists over the years appropriated scientific forms of knowing, and to what ends? What role do books play in the production of scientific knowledge today?

To address these questions, we will bring together literary and historical scholars, book artists whose work has been influenced by encounters with historical and modern-day scientific study, and scientists. Events will also include an exhibition of rare scientific and medical books at the John Martin Rare Book Room at the Hardin Library for the Health Sciences, as well as the opening of the exhibit “Micrographia: Book Art Responses to Early Modern Scientific Books” at the University of Iowa Center for the Book.

Confirmed speakers include Anthony Grafton (Princeton University), Katherine Tachau (University of Iowa), Kathleen Crowther (University of Oklahoma), Jole Shackelford (University of Minnesota), Jillian Linster (University of Iowa), Leslie Smith (book artist), Jennifer Burek-Pierce (University of Iowa), Candida Pagan (book artist), Bill Atkinson (York University, Toronto), Tracy Honn (Silver Buckle Press), Florence Hsia (University of Wisconsin-Madison), and Robin Rider (University of Wisconsin-Madison).

Advance registration is strongly encouraged. Registration is free; to be included in the catered lunch on Saturday, 17 October ($10) you must register in advance.

See the event website for a full schedule and registration information.

Sponsored by the University of Iowa Center for the Book, and the Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship of Scholars in Critical Bibliography at Rare Book School. Co-sponsored by The University of Iowa Obermann Center for Advanced Studies and the Departments of History and English.