Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Week 2: Nature

Tutor: Dr Michael Bycroft

Nature is orderly, regular and law-like. Plants and animals can be neatly grouped into species and genera, and phenomena such as heat and electricity can be understood in mathematical terms. And nature does not play—there are no wonders or marvels, only things that appear wondrous or marvellous because we do not fully understand them. This view of nature is common—some would say indispensable—in modern science. But it is not the only view, and it is a recent view. This week we examine a crucial context for the emergence of the orderly view of nature, namely Europe in the eighteenth century.

Seminar Questions

  • In what ways did nature become more orderly in eighteenth-century Europe?
  • What drove these changes?
  • What were the limits of these changes, ie. how complete were they, were they real or rhetorical, and what was lost in the process?

Essential Readings

Please read the Daston/Park chapters and one or more of the three other readings:

Daston, Lorraine and Katherine Park, Wonders and the Order of Nature (Zone Books, 1999). Chapters 6 and 9, ie. pp. 215-254 and 329-364.

Golinski, Jan. British Weather and the Climate of Enlightenment. Chicago UP, 2010. Introduction and Chapter 3 (Recording and Forecasting), pp. 77-107.

Fors, Hjalmar. The Limits of Matter: Chemistry, Mining and the Enlightenment. Chicago UP, 2014. Chapter 2 (Of Witches, Trolls, and Inquisitive Men).

Heilbron, John. ‘The Measure of Enlightenment’. In The Quantifying Spirit in the 18th Century, edited by Tore Frängsmyr, J. L Heilbron, and Robin E Rider, 207–42. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990.

Additional Readings

Clark, William, Jan Golinski, and Simon Schaffer, eds. The Sciences in Enlightened Europe. Chicago, Ill: University of Chicago Press, 1999.

Darnton, Robert. Mesmerism and the End of the Enlightenment in France. Harvard University Press, 1986.

Daston, Lorraine. “Preternatural Philosophy.” Biographies of Scientific Objects. Ed. Lorraine Daston. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000. 15–41.

Foucault, Michel. The Order of Things (first published as Les mots et les choses in 1966, translated into English in 1970). Chapter 5 (Classifying). Available online here.

MacGregor, Arthur. Curiosity and Enlightenment: Collectors and Collections from the Sixteenth to the Nineteenth Century. New Haven, Conn: Yale University Press, 2007.

Margócsy, Dániel. Commercial Visions: Science, Trade, and Visual Culture in the Dutch Golden Age. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014. Especially chapter 2.

Schaffer, Simon. ‘Natural Philosophy and Public Spectacle in the Eighteenth Century’. History of Science 21, no. 1 (1983): 1–43.