Symposium „Instruments and the ‘Empire of Man over Things’“
XXXVII Symposium of the Scientific Instrument Commission (SIC)
3. - 7. September 2018
Leiden and Haarlem, The Netherlands
Johann Gottlieb Rudolph, ca. 1748. Photo: Jürgen Karpinski. © Mathematisch-Physikalischer Salon, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden
The XXXVII Symposium of the Scientific Instrument Commission will take place from the 3d to the 7th of September 2018 in Leiden and Haarlem, the Netherlands. The general topic of the conference is „Instruments and the ‘Empire of Man over Things’“. In The New Organon (1620), Francis Bacon famously wrote that “the empire of man over things depends wholly on the arts and sciences. For we cannot command nature except by obeying her” [Works 8 (1863), 162-63]. How have instruments of the “arts and sciences” been deployed in efforts to “command nature” for social, economic, political or personal purposes? How have instruments entered public works projects (waterways, transport, energy, pollution control), economic projects (mining, agriculture, factories), or political projects (military, public health, exploration, cadastral surveying)? Are different instruments required when the goal is not only knowing but also controlling?
We welcome proposals for 20-minute papers that fit in any of the following three subtopics.
1. Water works and technics is inspired by the fact that the SIC conference is taking place in the Netherlands and thus water works are very appropriate. Proposals in this session could range from locks, building of dykes, to all kind of measuring instruments used for water works or technics. Also social aspects may be the subject of a paper, as for large projects a lot of coordination, politics, economics is needed.
2. Electricity nods to the fact that Teylers Museum is famous for its huge electricity machine and Rijksmuseum Boerhaave has also large collection of electrical instruments. Proposals in this session could range from static electricity toys, human electricity to powerplants. Also economic aspects may be the subject of a paper, such as the electrification of the homes, cars and electrical energy.
3. Citizens instrumental science proceeds from the idea that in the eighteenth century Dutch societies of interested upper middle class citizens flourished. Teylers is only one of them. In other countries people also gathered to see demonstrations by Desaguliers and others. What kind of organisations were they and what instruments were used and what for? Who joined these gatherings and what came of it? What was their relationship with the universities? Proposals in this session will address to these questions and other aspects of scientific societies.
Furthermore, the SIC invites members to organize other sessions that explore the general theme. Of course we also welcome proposals for sessions, papers or posters on any topic dealing with the material culture of science.
For the first time the SIC will include pitch sessions at the Dutch symposium. Speakers have to put forward their point of view of a subject in a short time. After 5 pitches we turn to an in-depth debate. SIC 2018 welcomes proposals for pitches related to the following two topics.
1. End of the SIC? In the past, historians of science took material heritage for granted and did not often make it a topic of analysis. Studies on the history of science and the activities related to scientific instruments (research, preservation, promotion) have been separated from each other for a long time. One of the main goals of the SIC in its early decades was to put this material heritage on the map. Nowadays more and more examples of interactions between the two fields appear: some historians of science base their researches and/or their lectures on scientific instruments, they co-curate exhibitions with curators, etc. So has the SIC done its job well? Should we step aside now? Proposals in this session should contain pitches with short and precise arguments and should contribute to an in-depth discussion on the future of the SIC.
2. Instruments that failed, became obsolete or forgotten. Cases of instruments that were regarded as failures have occurred throughout the centuries. But there are also cases of instruments that were relevant in their own time, but turned out to be no part of the history. And there are cases of research (instruments) which led to dead ends. Why do some instruments fail or fall into oblivion? What can we learn from such instruments? Can their study enrich the history of science? Should they be displayed and how? Proposals in this session should contain pitches with short and precise arguments and should contribute to an in-depth discussion on the role of these instruments in museums and the history of science.
The final deadline for the abstracts is March 1, 2018. The Symposium will be hosted jointly by Rijksmuseum Boerhaave in Leiden and the Teyler's Museum in Haarlem with visits to nearby cities and collections. The preliminary program can be found at the conference website.