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Things to do with text

Language of instruction: English

About the theme: This theme explores the various developments in both the textual and visual depiction of living nature from the sixteenth to the early nineteenth century.

How can living nature be captured in word and image? Do illustrations enhance the understanding of texts, or do they replace written descriptions altogether? These were essential questions for early modern ‘biologists’ (then called natural historians) who wished to record and transmit knowledge about the natural world.

This theme explores the various developments in both the textual and visual depiction of living nature from the sixteenth to the early nineteenth century. The beginning of this period witnessed a blossoming of the study of nature, resulting in elaborate descriptions of quadrupeds, birds, fishes and plants in often lavishly illustrated books. In this theme, we look at how the relationships between word and image changed due to the development of classification schemes, a growing awareness of the diversity of species, and new technologies such as the invention of the microscope. Such developments are evident in primary textual and visual sources from the period. Within the context of this course printed books, illustrations and other depictions, and letters will be analysed in order to gain an impression of the motivations, practices, views, and discoveries of their authors. Various guest lecturers with different academic backgrounds will offer their take on this. We will also visit various rare book collections and libraries well as collections of preserved plants and animals. This offers students the opportunity to see rare natural historical books and historical objects with their own eyes.

Lecturers: Sophia Hendrikx and Robbert Striekwold

Sophia Hendrikx is a PhD student at the Centre for the Arts in Society, also working within the framework of the NWO-funded project ‘A New History of Fishes: A Long-term Approach to Fishes in Science and Culture, 1550-1880’. Her fields of interest are the history of natural history (including medicine) and of ichthyology, book history, the use of illustrations in relation to text in zoological and ichthyological publications, and the exchange of knowledge, specifically in and of the early modern period.

Robbert Striekwold is a PhD student in the History of Biology at Naturalis Biodiversity Centre and the Leiden University Centre for the Arts in Society. His research project concerns the history of ichthyology in the Netherlands during the 19th century.

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