Visualizing Science in Media Revolutions

Visualizing Science in Media Revolutions

Late medieval and early modern science were witness to two exciting developments: first, new means of communicating observations became available, largely as a result of the printing press, and second, new instruments and techniques for observing the world emerged. In other words, the scientific practitioners of these times not only peered into previously unexplored corners of the cosmos, both far away and close at hand; they also had at their disposal new media with which to represent and report back to the world on what they had seen. This research group examines how these developments interacted with each other and thereby created a new culture of visualizing science.

The research group explores the modes of communication (such as letter writing for known recipients, and the unknown audiences of printed books) and media in which early modern scientific practitioners visualized their ideas and illustrated their objects of inquiry. A new visual culture was generated in the early modern period by those in pursuit of knowledge due to a variety of reasons, such as: new media (as a result of the printing press); new tools of observing the world (such as telescopes and microscopes); and the generation of new questions about nature and the world. By comparing media, tools, and modes of communication in different fields of early modern science, such as medicine, architecture, astronomy, and mathematics, the members of this research group will investigate the impact of new media on the way in which science was communicated visually. Furthermore, the group will study how new forms of visualization had an impact on the questions raised by early modern practitioners of science and medicine. Building on previous research on epistemic images, history of the book, and history of observation in science and medicine, the group's focus will be directed at questions such as:

  • How did the printing press have a lasting impact on the observational and visualization skills of early modern scientific practitioners?
  • How did scientific practitioners communicate visually for different audiences, in manuscript (letters, notebooks, hand-written books) alongside printed books?
  • How did early modern scientific practitioners deal with the practical and moral issues surrounding the making and manipulability of images?

The research group's expertise in studying media, visualization, and science, will also be put to use to study the impact of digital media and digital tools on current working practices in the humanities and sciences. How are current innovations in media technology and data storage impacting the role of images in our own research questions and research methods? Through a series of small workshops the group will collaborate with researchers in the humanities, digital humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences to open up new perspectives on how issues of new media and new methods of visualizing data pertain to our time. This exercise of reflection will raise an awareness of practices, possibilities, and struggles caused by the use of new media in both the past and the present.

Research Themes

Diagrams in Science
To launch the research group’s investigation into the history of visualizing science, we have embarked on a study of the diagram and the diagrammatic in the late medieval and early modern period. In addition to the geometrical figures in mathematics whose long history extends back to antiquity, diagrams can be found in all branches of medieval and early modern science. more
Media Revolutions and Images
The research group investigates visualizations of knowledge against the background of media changes in the late medieval and early modern period. We want to understand how different media impact the way in which knowledge can and was depicted and visualized. more
Translation and the Early Modern World
Investigating the history of science and medicine through the lens of translation yields insights into the complex social, intellectual, economical and religious backgrounds of the historical actors. more
Visualizing the Unknown
The international project "Visualizing the Unknown: Scientific Observation, Representation and Communication in Seventeenth-century Science and Society" aims at reconstructing the pioneering observations of seventeenth-century microscopists such as Robert Hooke and Antoni van Leeuwenhoek. more


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