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Abstracts: Image and Authority

Iris Montero Sobrevilla (University of Cambridge)
Knowledge Production and Authority over New World Nature in the Hernandian Corpus, 1571-1651


This paper explores the mechanisms for the construction of authoritative knowledge about New World nature in the writings of Dr. Francisco Hernández (1517-1587) and his commentators. Having been appointed chief medical officer of the Indies by king Philip II, Hernández travelled to Mexico to interview all the doctors, medicine men, herbalists and Indian informants with insights into the medicinal riches of the land. Combining his field records with the Renaissance medical tradition he had been trained in, Hernández wrote a 'Natural History of New Spain'. Fragments of this work travelled in manuscript form and were published by different authors on both sides of the Atlantic before its most well-known publication in Rome in 1651. In all these works -by men like Nardo Antonio Recchi, Johannes Faber, Juan Eusebio Nieremberg, Juan de Barrios, Francisco Ximénez and Joannes de Laet-, there are interesting 'literary and visual technologies' at work to endow Hernández of authority over his findings. Following the case of the hummingbird, this paper analyses how the Hernandian corpus utilised technologies such as the reporting of direct observation, the multiplication of witnesses, the notion of experiment, oral testimony, indexing and the manipulation of images to increase credibility and assert authority over one of the most wonderful creatures in the New World.


Harriet Palfreyman (University of Warwick)
The Virtues of the Image: Seeing the Pathology of Venereal Disease in Eighteenth-Century Britain


This paper looks at one code of epistemic virtue as articulated by Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison (Objectivity, 2007). ‘Truth-to-nature’, emerging in the early eighteenth century, relied on the ability of the image- maker to reflect the very essence of what was being pictured. Pathological images have a specific place within this epistemic virtue, as they were the first to utilise the ‘characteristic’ image, ‘for neither the Typus of the “pure phenomenon” nor the ideal, with its venerable associations with health and normality, could properly encompass the diseased organ’ (Objectivity, p. 82). This is most often seen in the pathological atlases of the nineteenth century such as Jean Cruveilhier’s Anatomie pathologique (1829 – 1842) or Robert Carswell’ s Pathological Anatomy (1838).

Yet images of diseased flesh were not always assured the ability to make or even represent knowledge of disease. This paper explores the emergence of the pathological image of venereal disease over the eighteenth century as ideas about the very nature of disease were changing. Whereas once the essence of disease was invisible and intangible, this period saw an emerging emphasis on the visible effects of disease on the body to classify the nature of the disease itself. Thus the image took on the power to convey knowledge of disease by revealing its visible forms. However to fully comprehend these new ideas of disease we must examine what exactly was being shown, what moment of the disease for example could become ‘characteristic’. This paper begins in the early eighteenth century in order to track the emergence and development of the pathological image within this epistemic virtue, looking at how it came to dominate in the nineteenth century.