Descartes Centre History of Science colloquium

On 21 March the next Descartes Centre History of Science colloquium will be held. With lectures by Dr Karen Hollewand (Junior Fellow at the Descartes Centre and Digital Fellow at the Faculty of History, University of Oxford) and Dr Georges Farhat (Associate Professor, University of Toronto; Senior Fellow in Garden and Landscape Studies at Dumbarton Oaks, Washington D.C. and Senior Fellow at the Descartes Centre).

Karen Hollewand will discuss her current research project, in which she is focusing on sex and science in relation to the history of science and the development of knowledge in the early modern period. Humanist Hadriaan Beverland was exiled from Holland in 1679 because he studied sex: he argued that lust was the original sin and highlighted the importance of sex in human nature, ancient history, and his own society. He was not the only scholar to focus on this salacious subject in the Dutch Republic: Antoni van Leeuwenhoek put his own sperm under a microscope and Reinier de Graaf discussed the male and female genitalia and reproductive organs, to name just two of his colleagues.

While historians have focused on topics like prostitution and pornography in the early modern Dutch context, we know relatively little about the 'serious' study of desire, coitus, and reproduction in this period. How did the study of sexuality develop? What did scholars actually know about sex, how and why did study this sinful subject, and how did (new) knowledge about 'generation' advance in the seventeenth- and eighteenth centuries? During her talk Hollewand will explain why this fascinating topic deserves our attention.

In his lecture, Georges Farhat will focus on the relation between science and landscape design. Since the 1950s, a historiographical tradition has developed in landscape studies that approaches the so-called Baroque garden through the framework of the so-called Scientific Revolution. By extension, science and technology are viewed, regardless of the history of their distinction, as converging factors in the formation of early modern landscapes. At the heart of this narrative lies the Grand Canal of Versailles whose layout and digging (1668-1672), it is assumed, was made possible through involving members of the nascent Académie Royale des Sciences and their use of a telescope-fitted level.

Landscape design is thus thought to have benefitted, at that time, from the same cutting-edge technology as did astronomy, geodesy, and cartography. Yet, when one scrutinizes the source of this epistemological tale, Charles Perrault’s Parallèle des Anciens et des Modernes, and contrasts it respectively with the worksite's terrain, administrative records including gardener’s contracts, and evidence of contemporary surveying practice, there emerges a completely different picture, one of fierce competition and communication around invention, precision, and instruments in the garden between mathematicians, designers, engineers, engravers, contractors, chroniclers (historiographers), and many others. In this talk Farhat will highlight some of the facts that have been ignored, confused, or forged in representing the gardens of Versailles as a showcase for science and technology in the Grand Siècle.


21 maart 2017 - 15:30


21 maart 2017 - 17:00


Sweelinckzaal (0.05)
Drift 21

Type activiteit