Making Visible: The visual and graphic practices of the early Royal Society


AHRC-funded research project
CRASSH, University of Cambridge

How and when did science become visual? How did drawings, diagrams and charts come to be used alongside words and objects by a group of people who hoped to reform and establish a new form of knowledge of nature, based on collaboration, experimentation and observation in the second half of the century? Who made those drawings and diagrams, and what made them ‘scientific’?  The aim of this project is to understand the roles visual resources and practices played in the development and dissemination of scientific knowledge in the first fifty years of the Royal Society. As one of the earliest institutions dedicated to collective investigation of nature, the Royal Society had few precedents to follow, and faced challenges in forming and presenting a new kind of collaborative knowledge to its audience. Many of the publications sponsored by the Royal Society such as Robert Hooke’s Micrographia or Francis Willughby’s Historia piscium, as well as the institution’s journal, 'Philosophical Transactions', contained extensive illustrations. These were important projects, as the Society grappled with various strategies to present a new form of knowledge and establish its own authority in scientific matters.  The archives of the Society contain a rich variety of images that has not yet received much attention by historians of science. This project proposes to undertake a systematic investigation into the visual and graphic practices of the Royal Society during its first fifty years, and examine the roles the Society played in the emergence of a scientific visual culture in the early modern period.

Project Description


Research Team

PI: Professor Sachiko Kusukawa (HPS, Trinity College Cambridge)
CI: Dr Felicity Henderson (English, University of Exeter)
CI: Dr Alexander Marr (History of Art, University of Cambridge)
RA: Dr Sietske Fransen
RA: Dr Katherine Reinhart
Administrator: Judith Weik 


Advisory Board

Professor Simon Goldhill (CRASSH/Classics, University of Cambridge)
Professor Michael Hunter (History, Birkbeck, University of London)
Professor Matthew Hunter (Art History, McGill University)
Keith Moore (Royal Society Library)
Professor Simon Schaffer (HPS, University of Cambridge)
Dr Kim Sloan (British Museum)     


Project Partner

The Royal Society, London


Upcoming Events:

Taxonomy, Translatability and Intelligibility of Scientific Images

17-18 June 2016 CRASSH, Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road, Cambridge CB3 9DT

Past Events:

The Big Draw - Seeing Closer

17 October 2015, 11:00 - 17:00
The Royal Society, London, 6-9 Carlton House Terrace, London, SW1Y 5AG

This year’s Royal Society Big Draw event will celebrate the 350th anniversary of Micrographia, Robert Hooke’s seminal text of microscopic observations. This free, family-friendly day will feature talks, workshops and activities on the theme of microscopy. Event details and activities

Master Class at the Whipple Museum

16 October 2015, Whipple Libray, Cambridge.

A study session with guest instructor Ad Stijnman