Matthew Eddy (Department of Philosophy, Durham University)
Discussant: Jim Secord (Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge)
The term ‘Enlightenment’ is a visual metaphor, one that treats knowledge as light and ignorance as darkness. This metaphor has long been associated with vision as a sensation, a direct imprint upon the retina of the eye. But vision also involves perception, and this aspect of learning, despite its inherent visual nature, has somehow remained absent from the shelves of Enlightenment artefacts that are so often placed on display by historians of the human sciences. I wish to change this situation by asking how university students were taught to ‘see’ – to understand, to value – the lines, words and space of the graphic structures they used on a daily basis during their formative years. In this paper I investigate this topic by identifying some reoccurring visual patterns used to order the knowledge systems taught to students who attended Scottish universities during the late Enlightenment. Drawing from the anthropology of lines developed by Tim Ingold, I argue that lecture outlines - the core teaching tool used in Scottish Universities during the eighteenth century - were designed according to a shared spatial template, the rules of which served as an immutable mobile, a visual logarithm, that serialised information through graphic standardisation. By making this point I wish to show that Enlightenment classification methods were fundamentally dependent on visual skills that, firstly, have remained hidden in plain sight and, secondly are relevant to current interests in visual anthropology.
Open to all. No registration required
Part of the Field Notes: Histories of Archaeology and Anthropology Seminar series.
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Poster images from Flickr creative commons by d.schille