The Aesthetic Enlightenments Conference – 10-11 January 2014

Georg Dionysius Ehret, Aloe Africana, Flore Rubro (n.d.), watercolour on paper; Huntington Art Collections.

Georg Dionysius Ehret, Aloe Africana, Flore Rubro (n.d.), watercolour on paper; Huntington Art Collections.

On 10-11 January 2014 Dr Sarah Easterby-Smith and colleague Dr Emily Senior (Department of English, Birkbeck) convened a conference on Aesthetic Enlightenments: Cultures of Natural Knowledge at the Huntington Library in Los Angeles.

The two-day international conference examined the relationship between the aesthetic production and social circulation of knowledge about the natural world in the eighteenth century. The conference featured twelve invited speakers from the UK, USA, Canada and Australia, who presented research that connected literary, visual and discursive forms of analysis with approaches current within the social history of science.

The discussion was structured around six panels: ‘Knowledge Work and Circulation’, ‘Hybrid Forms of Knowledge’, ‘Inscription, Translation and Erasure’, ‘The Epistemology of Feeling’, ‘Scholars and Communities’ and ‘Public Science, Education and Professionalisation’. We learnt, amongst other things, about the cultural links between blushing and tattooing; the confused histories of naming elks, deer and moose; the wonderful machines used to visualise Enlightenment science, and even (nota bene, St Andrews history students!) student note-taking practices in eighteenth-century Scottish universities. The conference concluded with a fascinating roundtable in which speakers, moderators and audience further interrogated the constitution of these connections, also discussing the natures of interdisciplinary scholarship both now and in the past. By placing such a diverse range of topics in relation to each other for the first time, we were able to further understand the ways in which social participation in science related to the aesthetic and cultural forms of its making. Podcasts of some of the presentations will be available on the Huntington’s iTunesU channel from mid-February; in the mean time you can download the full programme here.

Dr Easterby-Smith and Dr Senior (front right) with the conference delegates.

Dr Easterby-Smith and Dr Senior (front right) with the conference delegates.

The organisers’ interest in Aesthetic Enlightenments arose from their earlier collaborative research on The Cultural Production of Natural Knowledge, which was recently published as a special issue of the Journal for Eighteenth Century Studies.  Several of the topics arising from the conference will also feature in Dr Easterby-Smith’s special subject France in the Age of Exploration from 2014-15.

The conference was fully funded by the Dibner History of Science Program at the Huntington Library.

About standrewshistory
With over forty full time members of staff researching and teaching on European, American and Asian history from the dawn of the Middle Ages to the present day, the School of History at the University of St Andrews has one of the finest faculty and diverse teaching programmes of any School of History in the English speaking world. The School boasts expertise in Mediaeval and Modern History, from S cotland to Byzantium and the Americas to the Middle East and South Asia.Thematic interests include religious history, urban history, transnationalism, historiography and nationalism. The School of History prides itself on small group teaching and tutorials allowing for in depth study and supervision tailored to secure the best from each student. Cutting edge research combined with teaching excellence offer a dynamic and intellectually stimulating environment for the study of History.

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