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.

St Andrews team wins UKIERI funding

The Scottish Cemetery, Calcutta

The School of History is delighted to announce the success of a collaborative project, Narratives of Migration and Exchange, in gaining funding from the UK India Education and Research Initiative (UKIERI).

Narratives of Migration and Exchange is an interdisciplinary, collaborative research project involving academics from the University of St Andrews and Presidency University, Kolkata. It will explore, from a variety of approaches, the complicated network of exchange of people, ideas, technologies and capital which mark the colonial legacy in India and in Europe. The project will include four interlinked strands: Partition, Migration and Independence; Francophone Exchanges; Scottish Cemeteries and The Jute Industry. These strands will together shed new light on the complex power-dynamics that characterise the colonial and post-colonial world. Through regular research trips, research symposia, and postgraduate training workshops, we will both produce significant original research and create opportunities for future collaborations. In the process, we will leave a strong intellectual and pedagogical legacy in both partner universities which will continue after the life of the project.

Within St Andrews, the project involves colleagues from the Schools of English and History – with the School of History represented by Dr Sarah Easterby-Smith, Dr Chandrika Kaul and Dr Akhila Yechury.


Spotlight on Aileen Fyfe

Aileen Fyfe NewDr Aileen Fyfe grew up in Glasgow, took all her degrees at Cambridge (Jesus College), and, after getting her PhD in 2000, spent ten years as a lecturer in the History Department at NUI Galway, in Ireland. She returned to Scotland to join the St Andrews School of History at the start of 2011. Her years on the extreme west coast of the British archipelago make the drier, sunnier climate of the east coast particularly welcome!

Aileen usually describes herself as a social and cultural historian of the sciences, but she’s equally likely to claim to be an historian of publishing, and at St Andrews she is described as a modern British historian. She did her graduate training in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at Cambridge, and an interest in the production, circulation and consumption of knowledge remains at the core of all her work.

Science & SalvationAmong the topics she has written about are: the readership of science books for children in the 1790s; university textbooks and examinations in the 1810s and 1820s; religious publishing charities in the 1840s; and the natural historical and geological content of tourist guidebooks in the 1850s. Her Science and Salvation: evangelicals and popular science in Victorian Britain (2004) investigated the authors and editors of the science works produced by the Religious Tract Society in the 1840s, arguing that evangelicals were far less opposed to the sciences than had previously been assumed. Her co-edited Science in the Marketplace: nineteenth-century sites and experiences (2007) has been widely recognised as making an important contribution to the debates on popular science, by drawing attention beyond the printed word, to include museums, exhibitions, zoos, lectures and conversations, and the interaction between these media.

Most recently, her prize-winning Steam-Powered Knowledge: William Chambers and the business of publishing, 1820-1860 (2012) brought together the cultural history of technology and the history of publishing, to show how a publisher of cheap instructive works adopted and adapted the emerging new technologies of industrial printing and distribution, and integrated them into his goal of educating the English-speaking world.

MO3331 trip_crop

MO3331 The Victorians, on a class trip to Lauriston Castle

This wide range of interests is reflected in Aileen’s teaching: she coordinates the Scottish-British sub-honours survey module (MO2008 Scotland, Britain and Empire, 1500-2000); teaches Victorian social and cultural history at 3000-level (MO3219 Print Culture in Britain 1750-1900 and MO3331 The Victorians: Religion and Respectability); and offers Victorian technology as a special subject (MO4930: The Technologies of Victorian Britain). She contributes to the MLitt programmes in Modern History, Early Modern History and Book History, dealing with topics as varied as the scientific revolution, the industrial revolution, the invention of copyright, and the Victorian family. She will be launching a new 3000-level module on ‘Nature and Society in Victorian Britain’ in the coming academic year.


Dr Fyfe & Dr Easterby-Smith at the recent Fife Science Festival

Aileen likes to use material culture in her teaching, has taken her students on field trips to various nineteenth-century homes, to rare book collections, and to the National Museum for Scotland.  She has also done a number of public events at MUSA, the university museum, the most recent of which involved dressing up in historic costume!

Aileen is currently suffering an embarrassment of riches, being the PI on two AHRC-funded projects as well as a member of an AHRC research network. Her small project focuses on the recreation of a Victorian popular science show, which will be performed for modern audiences in summer 2013. The big project, which will run until 2017, is a social, cultural and economic history of the world’s oldest scientific journal, the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. Now the postdocs have been recruited, the project gets underway in May 2013, and the team will be planning lots of celebratory events – particularly for public audiences – in 2015, the year of the journal’s 350th anniversary.

Aileen has long been involved with the British Society for the History of Science, and will be organising its 2014 meeting in St Andrews. Since 2011, she has been a member of the RSE Young Academy of Scotland, and was elected co-chair in 2012. This has led to invitations to meet the US Ambassador, to attend a dinner-debate on enterprise and innovation in Scotland, and to meet Olympic medallist Katherine Grainger.

Aileen hopes one day to have the time to write a book on ‘The Victorian Information Revolution’ and to develop her interest in the links between tourism and the sciences.

You can follow Aileen on Twitter and subscribe to her blog here.

St Andrews Historians at the Fife Science Festival


Picture courtesy of University of St Andrews Museums and Galleries

Dr Sarah Easterby-Smith and Dr Aileen Fyfe took part in MUSA’s ‘Star & Ship Enterprise’ event, a family event run as part of Fife Science Festival. Building from the theme, they displayed a selection of items that Captain Cook and his crew might have brought home from the South Pacific, after observing the transit of Venus in 1769. To get in the spirit of things, Dr Easterby-Smith and Dr Fife dressed the part, though their costumes turned out to be of less interest to younger visitors than the giant bat skeleton and the brain coral! The 1790s world map (centred on the Pacific, not Atlantic) caught the attention of many visitors, as the youngest struggled to find Britain and Australia, and those who could read were intrigued by names such as ‘New Holland’, ‘Dieman’s Land’, and ‘Hindoostan’.

Spotlight on Sarah Easterby-Smith

SarahES copyDr Sarah Easterby-Smith joined the School of History in September 2012 as a Lecturer in Modern History, after being Dibner Research Fellow in the History of Science and Technology, Huntington Library, California; Visiting Fellow at the Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University; Max Weber Postdoctoral Fellow at the European University Institute; and Early Career Fellow, Institute of Advanced Study, University of Warwick. Dr Easterby-Smith was awarded her Ph.D. by the University of Warwick in 2010.

Dr Easterby-Smith teaches and researches modern European history, with a special interest in the global connections and transnational links made between France, Britain and the wider world in the eighteenth century.  Her research focuses on the relationship between science, society and culture during this period, and on how information, knowledge and cultural influences moved (or failed to move) between nations and across social groups.

Jean-Baptiste Hilair, Le cèdre du Jardin du Roi (1794). Bibliothèque nationale de France

Jean-Baptiste Hilair, Le cèdre du Jardin du Roi (1794). Bibliothèque nationale de France

She is currently completing a monograph, Cultivating Commerce, which is a social history of botany in France and Britain between 1760 and 1815.  Through an examination of networks of botanical scholars, plant traders and their customers, the book exposes the close connections between botany and an expanding plant trade, and with shifting cultures of connoisseurship, in the late eighteenth century.

A.P., ‘Nouvelle Place de la Bastille’, July 1789. British Museum

A.P., ‘Nouvelle Place de la Bastille’, July 1789. British Museum

Below: Video of Sarah Easterby-Smith teaching a group of colleagues at the European University Institute in 2011. This is part of from an undergraduate seminar about nature and modernity.

Dr Easterby-Smith teaches at first and second level, as well as the honours option MO3321 Politics, culture and society in the French Revolution, 1789-1815 and the masters module  MO5710: Crossing borders – European History in Transnational Perspective.

For more on Dr Easterby-Smith go to and