Mapping and the Microscope

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Abstract Summary
“We are come ashore into a new World,” declared Nehemiah Grew in the dedication to his 17th century publication commissioned by the Royal Society. The world he went on to describe, however, did not include any of the typical features one might expect from a treatise on the exploration of new territory. There were no coastlines there – no mountainous regions, no lakes or valleys. Instead, the place he described consisted of roots, seeds, vessels and membranes. Nehemiah Grew was one of the earliest people to conduct a detailed exploration of plant life with the use of a microscope. The things he discovered had he had no language to describe. In the presentation of his research, Grew borrowed freely from other knowledge systems in development at that time, including bookbinding, the study of animal anatomy and his own vitalist metaphysics. One of the most striking features of how he framed his research was in the language of territorial expansion. Grew's reference to the imperialist project was more than simply a rhetorical appeal by Grew; rather it was central to both the discursive and visual language he developed around his work. The engravings that accompanied Grew’s publications were necessarily abstract, resembling less the tradition of botanical illustration than a series of maps or mathematical diagrams. I will trace the visual form of Grew’s illustrations through the tradition of cartography and consider the implications of this way of imagining the microscopic world geographically – as a place to be surveyed and conquered.
Abstract ID :
HSS939
Submission Type
Chronological Classification :
17th century
Self-Designated Keywords :
microscopy, art history, visual epistemology

Associated Sessions

Ph.D. Candidate, University of British Columbia

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