Drift 25, Rm. 302 25 Jul 2019 Organized Session
Social Sciences 16:00 - 18:00

Ever since the human mind was constituted as an object of science in the late-nineteenth century, its immateriality has remained an enduring stimulus. Curiously, for most of a century, in most of the world, making the human and the mind susceptible to scientific investigations has required the use of a wide range of materials. New material technologies---aidophones, vowel-tracers, phonoscopes, mechanical recording and time-keeping devices, among others---were paired with new methods to produce scientific knowledge across the human sciences, as they professionalized and institutionalized in Europe and North America. While founding experimental psychology, Hermann von Helmholtz and Wilhelm Wundt modified technical devices like the stopwatch and metronome in efforts to more scientifically measure mental operations. Between 1870 and 1914, laboratory and field scientists in anthropology, linguistics, and psychology experimented widely with spools of yarn, color chips, illustrated flip books, naturalia, light reflected through plastic sheets, and other sundry measurements of the senses. This panel explores scientific attempts to produce knowledge about the human, the mind, language, and culture at the intersections of the senses. By attending to the material instruments, techniques, and technologies of human sciences circa 1900, this panel sheds light on scientific attempts to materialize the intractably immaterial human mind. By revisiting human sciences like anthropology, linguistics, and psychology around the turn of the twentieth century, with a focus on the material conditions and substrata of scientific knowledge production, this panel provides historical material with which to reconsider the historiography of the human sciences more broadly.

Organized by Cameron Brinitzer

Between the Lab, Field, and Garden: Experimental Psychology and Ethnology ca. 1900
16:00 - 16:30
In the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, a methodological controversy emerged around the scientific problem of understanding human color vision in evolutionary terms. While the first experimental psychology laboratories were being constructed across Western Europe and North America to subtend a natural science of mind, zoologists and ethnologists were simultaneously researching color vision among populations outside Europe. In the early-twentieth century, the “colour-sense controversy” crystalized among experimentalists seeking an understanding of human color vision in ontogenetic and phylogenetic terms. To build a natural science of mind capable of accounting for visual perception and attendant forms of cognition, these experimentalists moved between psychological laboratories, anthropological expeditions and field sites, and experimental apparatus which some built in their own homes and gardens. This paper shows that an overlooked product of the colour-sense controversy was the methodological specification of “looking-time” (a combination of direction and duration of optic fixation) as a scientific measure of perception and cognition. At the turn of the century, these experimentalists argued that measures of looking-time provided access to the nonverbal minds of human infants, while also authorizing research among linguistically-diverse peoples. While looking-time is often thought to have been operationalized during the 1950s, attention to the material stuff of psychological experimentation around the turn of the twentieth century reveals a sustained methodological controversy surrounding the utility of looking-time as an experimental measure in research concerned with color vision. Finally, attending to the material cultures of human sciences circa 1900 calls into question neat divisions between laboratory and field sciences.
The Use of Sensory Stimuli in Linguistic Fieldwork
16:30 - 17:00
The 1874 edition of Notes and Queries on Anthropology was written, like other such protocols of the nineteenth century, “to promote accurate anthropological observation on the part of travelers,” enabling those who were not “anthropologists themselves to supply the information…wanted for the scientific study of anthropology at home.” It was an attempt to discipline a potentially unruly observer—officers, administrators, missionaries—one who was nevertheless charged with collecting the ‘raw data’ of anthropology. But new disciplinary constellations, methodological norms, and attitudes toward experimental subjects, were beginning to shift the ways in which questions were asked and answered during this period. Increasingly, emphasis moved from the observer to the observed, corresponding to a raft of new fieldwork instruments that engaged experiences across the sensorium. This presentation will focus on exchanges between students of language, culture, and the mind, attending to practices of interrogation that eschewed the use of language—spools of yarn, color chips, illustrated flip books, naturalia, and the like. As this partial list already suggests, attempts to innovate assays of the mind that were not mediated by translation brought anthropologists and linguists into unlikely collaborations with artists, industry, and other scientific disciplines. While highlighting the networks that gave rise to these tools, the presentation will simultaneously trace theoretical implications for how researchers conceptualized correspondences between linguistic forms, concepts, and things in the world.
It’s Very Difficult to Sing a Daisy: Adventures in Aesthetics and Experimental Phonetics at the Turn of the Century
17:00 - 17:30
Presented by : Michael Rossi
Among the many passing fascinations of turn of the century America, consider the eidophone pictures of Welsh singer Megan Watts Hughes. An accomplished vocalist, Watts Hughes discovered that singing into a mouthpiece connected to a resonant plate upon which had been placed a thin film of paste would cause the paste to contort into strange and wonderful shapes. By carefully modulating her voice as she sang into the mouthpiece-plate-paste apparatus — which she called the “eidophone” – Watts Hughes could cause pictures to appear at will: surreal landscapes, spiraling abstractions, even pansies, roses, and other flowers of specific type and species. It was notably difficult, however, to “sing a daisy,” she said, because of the extremely low tones and precise control required. This paper will take Watts Hughes’s pictures as a jumping off point from which to explore the field of experimental phonetics in the United States at the turn of the century. By no means the first instance of “hearing with the eyes,” as one scientist put it, Hughes’s “voice graphics” nevertheless caused a stir among physiologists, psychologists, and physicians in the United States who believed that transducing sound into vision was the best way to study speech. In the nuances of precisely-recorded human vocalizations – whether made from eidophones, vowel-tracers, phonoscopes, or other recording devices – practitioners of experimental phonetics found new methods for treating speech “disorders” and new ways for (literally) envisioning the neurological and cognitive roots of language. At the same time, the difficulty of “singing a daisy” wasn’t simply practical – in deciding on the meanings of the tracings that their machines produced, researchers also faced questions about formalism, aesthetics, interpretation, and the correspondence between representation and the notional real.
Tracing the Zigzags of Early Anthropology
17:30 - 18:00
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” or so said Keats. Historians of science are very adept at understanding the complexities involved in translating natural phenomena into fact, and fact into truth. Less critical attention, however, has been paid to beauty and how it has shaped expectations of what the truth looks like. How have aesthetic judgments of beauty, shaped by the senses, contributed to the construction of knowledge in the human sciences? In this talk, I explore anthropological efforts to understand art-making in the late nineteenth century. In particular, I examine biological attempts to explain the evolution of ornament, conducted by an array of zoologists and anthropologists between 1870 and 1900, which applied the analytic tools of embryology and morphology to the products of human craft. As a result, simple geometric patterns like the zigzag were understood to be the most primitive. These analyses were based on western aesthetic judgments of beauty, and characterized the art of non-western peoples as degenerate and unsophisticated. Through this study, I show how scientists relied on their own aesthetic sense while denying taste to the people they studied. Applying a biological frame to the problems of culture assumed that non-western peoples were only capable of replication, thereby denying artistic sensibility and creativity to Indigenous makers. In doing so, anthropology translated taste into scientific knowledge of human difference. Truth could indeed be built upon beauty, but only the right kind of beauty.

History & Sociology of Science, University of Pennsylvania
University of Pennsylvania
Yale University
Warburg Institute, University of London
Patrícia Martins Marcos
PhD Candidate, UCLA


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