Document Type

Article

Publication Date

2006

Journal or Book Title

Isis

Volume

97

Abstract

One of the persistent features of historical writing about the sciences in the last twenty years has been the concern of a number of historians who insist on the need for a new awareness of the role of visual images and image making. The author believes that, rather than reducing the analysis of visual culture to a single set of principles, the point of the academic study of scientific images is the recognition of their heterogeneity, the different circumstances of their production, and the variety of cultural and social functions they serve. This essay challenges historians to discover new ways of framing the historical meanings of scientific images within the larger contexts of signifying symbols, images, and mediations that make up culture. The study of nineteenth-century practices of building collections of scientific photographs provides the background for a discussion of the significance of picture archives in the history of science, of the historical mechanisms that frame some pictures as “scientific” and others as “unscientific,” and of the need for further research on how scientific images generate meaning.

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