The Cultural Production of Eighteenth-Century Natural Knowledge

Call for Papers: Journal special issue

April 2011

Essay proposals are invited for a collection entitled ‘The Cultural Production of Eighteenth-Century Natural Knowledge’. We are developing a collection of essays as a journal special issue which will examine the production and circulation of knowledge about the natural world in the eighteenth century. This interdisciplinary collection will bring together original research on the relationship between science, culture and social practice in the eighteenth century.

The Enlightenment heralded an era of fascination with the workings of the natural world which eventually resulted in the development of large-scale, institutionalized efforts to investigate, categorize and explain nature. But Enlightenment knowledge was not made in the laboratory or the university alone: a complex of social networks outside these walls played a crucial role in making and disseminating new ideas, information and objects. We invite contributions that discuss scientific texts, objects, images, ideas and social networks in terms of the cultural and social conditions of scientific knowledge-making—both inside and outside of institutions. The collection will focus on the cultural and aesthetic frameworks within which medical and natural philosophical knowledge was created, represented and communicated. We hope contributors will pay special attention to historical interactions between different forms of knowledge, addressing how new kinds of ideas and social practices were produced at the points of meeting between artistic and scientific discourses and the moments of crossing between disciplinary, professional and social boundaries. The intention is to examine the cultural dimensions of eighteenth-century enquiry in order to understand what constituted ‘knowledge’ and the social processes of its production, as well as the various imaginative forms employed to make sense of new systems of information.

The essays in this special issue will demonstrate how Enlightenment representations of knowledge, manifested in textual, pictorial or oral form, influenced the development of new ways of knowing and encouraged the participation of new types of scientific practitioner. The first half of the collection will discuss the production and consumption of texts, collections and visual representations. The aim is to understand the relationship between these cultural manifestations and knowledge-making, through an examination of the points of intersection between aesthetic discourse and medical and scientific knowledge. How were scientific and medical ideas created and disseminated in literary texts, epistolary culture, travel writings, works of art, museums and other cultural productions? Who read these texts or studied collections, and how did they relate to them? Part Two will ask what the social consequences of this were for participation in Enlightenment science. By attending to how the circulation of knowledge and particular cultural forms might influence scientific practice, we aim to understand who participated in knowledge-making and how they did so during and in the wake of the Enlightenment. Through reanimating the cultural and social contexts of medical and scientific ideas and practices, this collection asks how people were invited to imagine the natural world as well as what the natural world was imagined to be. By enlarging the cultural and social framework through which we view eighteenth-century knowledge, the essays in this special issue will open up alternate genealogies for the production of ideas and development of new practices central to the emergence of scientific modernity.

We invite proposals on topics including, but not limited to:

-          The literary production of medical and scientific knowledges

-          Social participation in knowledge-making

-          Science and visual culture

-          Enlightenment scholarly networks and the circulation of people and things

-          Scientific objects

-          Science and storytelling

-          Colonialism, geographical movement and the production of knowledge

-          Aesthetic theory and discourses of scientific cognition

The collection will be edited and introduced by Dr Sarah Easterby-Smith (European University Institute) and Dr Emily Senior (University of Warwick), with an afterword by Professor Judith Hawley (Royal Holloway, University of London).


Deadline for proposals (2 pages max, accompanied by a brief biographical statement or CV): 20th May 2011. Complete essays of c. 7,000 words will be due 15th September 2011.

Please send queries and submissions to:

Sarah Easterby Smith and

Emily Senior